When we wake up in Adams County on a normal day, water has been leaking out of the county all night in the same way that heat escapes from our houses on cold winter nights, silent and unseen. Almost all of us, whether served by a water authority or drawing from a well in the back yard, depend on groundwater. In fact, 81 percent of us depend on groundwater sources. Only Michigan has more wells per square mile than Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Topographic and Geological Survey, Adams County has more than 45 private wells per square mile.
Many farms and some businesses have their own ponds as either a main or an extra water source. These ponds are the only reservoirs in Adams County. We use groundwater instead of building reservoirs. There are several advantages to groundwater. First, it is cheaper to access it than to build reservoirs; second, it does not evaporate or run out rapidly; and third, its quality tends to be better than surface water. In past years we have experienced several droughts of varying length and severity. We need to save water for a sunny day the same way that we save money for a rainy day.
Actually we have lots of groundwater, but if we continue to take more out than is being replaced, the water may become more difficult or even impossible to access. The best way to save water is to recharge our groundwater, since that source is effectively our reservoir. Forests are an excellent tool for recharge, even though they use more water than they save. Forested areas prevent a large part of our rainfall from running rapidly into our streams and out of the area. But right now we have a problem with the trees. The Eastern Hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has been losing most of its Hemlocks due to an invasive species called the Wooly Adelgid. This is especially unfortunate, as Hemlocks create a very special streamside environment which holds a high volume of water and, most important, cools stream water. Losing the Hemlocks means we must find new ways to improve groundwater recharge.
Another of our problems is impervious surfaces. Roads, houses, businesses, schools, any part of our area where rainwater runs off very rapidly, is unavailable for groundwater recharge. This loss needs to be considered when planning growth. Also we must save land such as forests and other kinds of plantings which efficiently recharge groundwater as a balance against impervious surface run off.
All of us in Adams County need to be aware of how complex the process is by which we get this most essential resource. Public officials and groups which are working to keep our water clean and plentiful need financial and volunteer support. For example, the Watershed Alliance of Adams County is working on several projects to ensure that the quantity and quality of our water are adequate for current and future needs, and the Land Conservancy of Adams County acquires land and easements and encourages landowners to maintain habitats which promote groundwater recharge.