One lesson from Hurricane Katrina is that persons with flooded water wells could benefit from greater public-private coordination before a disaster hits, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) testified to Congress.
Some 234,545 household well systems are estimated to be in areas affected by Katrina, but there are no reliable estimates as yet on how many may actually be contaminated by floodwaters.
NGWA Director for Science and Technology Stephen Ragone, Ph.D., testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials in its hearing on “Hurricane Katrina: Assessing the Present Environmental Status.”
Ragone testified that the assessment and remediation of affected wells is being affected by communication problems, other relief efforts and citizen displacement. “Pre-disaster planning, training and coordination between government officials and private sector water well professionals may have lessened the challenges,” said Ragone.
Moreover, Ragone said standard well disinfection protocols being used in the disaster areas may not be effective for all wells depending on well design, size and hydrogeologic variables.
“For example, shock chlorination – the traditional approach to well disinfection – does not always solve the problem for those with inundated wells or where general ground water quality has been impacted,” said Ragone, adding that long-term strategies should ensure appropriate decontamination protocols are available as needed.
Ragone cited a 2002 report developed by NGWA under contract with FEMA entitled “Field Evaluation of Emergency Well Disinfection for Contamination Events.” It examined the effectiveness of well disinfection in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd (1999) in North Carolina and adjacent Atlantic coastal areas.
Among the report’s recommendations are the development of county/district teams trained and equipped to evaluate, help and conduct needed immediate repairs of wells to restore private water supply function and potability. These teams would include local government environmental health staff, private-sector personnel experienced in well and pump service and other people with specific knowledge of local ground water quality and occurrence, such as hydrogeologists.