The Berlin Well

The story of the Berlin Well is a lesson in the problem of boundaries. You have to address what is happening inside and outside the Pinelands boundaries if you want to protect this unique ecosystem. This story also demonstrates that PPA and a group of committed citizens really can make a difference.

A Historical Overview

In 1997 a new well was constructed, just outside of the Pinelands boundaries, to provide water to thousands of Camden County residents. Berlin Well #12 was only 84 feet deep and pumped water from the shallow Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. The water level in this aquifer is a few feet beneath the ground surface in most areas of the Pinelands. It is for this reason that the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is the lifeblood of New Jersey's Pinelands, providing over 90% of the water you see in its wetlands, streams and rivers.

Berlin Well #12 started pumping water in 1997 but that same year the $2 million facility was shut down because it produced water with a bad smell and bad taste. It was determined that bacteria from wetlands located just 750 feet from the well had caused the water quality problems. This was the first indication that the well was stealing water from the nearby wetlands.

Image of Berlin Well[+ ZOOM] Berlin Well © PPA

In June 2000, after an expensive filtration system was installed to correct the odor problem, the Well was turned on and began pumping 450 gallons a minute from the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. That same month residents of Marlton Lakes noticed that Kettle Run, a primary feeder stream for the lake system in Evesham Township, was drying up. This stream, closest to the Well, would flow briefly after thunderstorms but within a few days it would dry up along with the surrounding wetlands. This was a new phenomenon, something that residents had never experienced before. These wetlands are home to some amazing plant and animal life, including the federally threatened Swamp Pink. The Well was located just outside the Pinelands boundaries but the dramatic, detrimental effects were seen within the boundaries.

Time to Take Action

A small group of private citizens, led by PPA took action. PPA helped residents to press the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for tests and action on the well. PPA staff obtained records showing Berlin Borough and DEP anticipated the impact on Kettle Run wetlands, but approved the well anyway. PPA was able to help residents sort through the volumes of technical information and find information buried in DEP files. Recognizing the unique opportunity to shape future water supply policy to protect wetlands and aquatic habitat, PPA requested a formal hearing to present detailed information supporting the claim that the well should be turned off...permanently.

All's Well that ends Well

In June 2001, with test results showing the well was draining the wetlands, DEP instructed Berlin to turn the well off and find another source of municipal water. This was a major victory for the environment and residents of Marlton Lakes! Any reduction in water flowing into the lakes would have been a serious problem since the bacteria levels in the lakes would have risen, and could have resulted in beach closings. This was a situation where the environment and the quality of life for residents of a lake community was in jeopardy.

Why it was Worth the Fight

This was the first time PPA is aware of, that the DEP shut down a well because of concerns for threatened and endangered species, in this case the federally threatened Swamp Pink.

Shortly after the Berlin Well was closed a similar problem cropped up in Crestwood Village, located in the Pinelands. In 2002 the Crestwood Village Water Company requested that it be allowed to remove an additional 95 million gallons of groundwater per year from the shallow aquifer beneath Whiting, NJ in order to support more development. At the time all of their wells were located in the shallow Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. The water company's own consultants admitted that this would reduce the flow of water in a number of local streams and wetlands within the Barnegat Bay Watershed.

Image of Swamp Pink, small version[+ ZOOM] Swamp Pink, small version ©Michael Hogan

Using the Berlin Well case as an example of a flawed water supply policy that does little to protect the environment, PPA requested a formal hearing and packed the hearing with over 300 residents. After presenting detailed comments and subsequent meetings with the DEP and water company, the original plan to take water from the shallow aquifer was scrapped. The water company agreed to install a very deep well, one that would not impact wetlands or streams. Because of PPA efforts, the Pinelands Commission also officially opposed the request for additional water at the hearing.

This the first time that one state agency (the Pinelands Commission) asked another state agency (DEP) to turn down a water allocation request due to environmental impacts. After the Berlin Well and Crestwood Village issues the DEP changed how they looked at requests to remove water from the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. Prior to this, their main concern was whether or not a new well or water permit would impact other human users. In 2005 they began requiring more monitoring of the environmental impacts of new or increased water allocation requests.

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