Water, Water Part II

by Gary Mount

Passionate devotion to farming and in particular fruit growing is an easy judgment to make about this farmer. Not only does the constant change of circumstances and information keep me on my toes and in my place, but also farming continually educates me about the natural world around me.

This year has been marked by my search for water to irrigate our farms. I previously wrote about my new well at the main farm on Cold Soil Road and how my friend Doug Minard, fruit grower and water dowser, helped me find a good producing well.

All this work on wate r- and writing about it – got me thinking about our other farm, the pick your own orchard on Van Kirk Road. Pam and I purchased that 26-acre property in 1980, five years after we started at Cold Soil Rd. When we planted the apple trees and raspberries, we connected to Elizabethtown Water Company’s water main on Carter Road. We did this because of the area’s reputation for scarcity of good wells. Besides, in those days, the Elizabethtown pressure was good – about 80 lbs, supply was plentiful and clean and although a bit expensive for farming, it was feasible in that we needed no pump and didn’t have to bear the cost of drilling a well.

Our water came through a 1000-foot easement that we purchased from a neighboring property owner and was distributed around the orchard through buried plastic pipes. The water is turned on and off with a timer to feed the drip irrigation lines. We planted the orchard in 1980 and 1981, which were both years with dry summers. With the drip irrigation system in place, we only lost 5 of the 10,000 trees that we planted. The connection to Elizabethtown was a good investment.

Now, it is twenty years later. Because of increased development in the area, Elizabethtown’s pressure to us has dropped in half to 40 lbs. The price of the water has also gone up dramatically.

It is easy to see where this is heading – I called my friend Doug and asked if he would come and “dowse” another well. He did and together we picked out three possible spots. Simple, right? Just call the well driller and start drilling. Not so! When I called the Sam Stothoff drilling company, one of their staff suggested I talk to a geologist, Matt Mulhall of Hunterdon County. I had just finished reading The Map That Changed The World about the world’s first geological map, created by William Smith in 1815. I was ready! Talking to a geologist sounded interesting. It was – more than I knew.

Matt ordered aerial photos of the farm. He also brought geological maps showing all the known subsurface fracture lines in the area as well as any streams. Water in our location, he explained, was best found in areas of fractured sub-surface rock. This is very different from the sandy, coastal plains of southern New Jersey where water is found almost anywhere.

Matt later told me that he was very discouraged when he arrived at the farm—especially when I told him about the neighbor’s lack of success in drilling for water. He pointed out the known fracture lines on his map. These were created some 350 million years ago when the European continent, which had been part of the North American landmass, was pulled away. The Atlantic Ocean was formed and also fractures or faults all throughout our area. On Matt’s map, all the fracture lines ran parallel, from NE to SW. Also, most of the streams in the area also ran NE to SW, often right over a fracture line. It didn’t look like any fractures crossed the farm.

But when Matt and I walked around the property, something became apparent about the two distinct soil types on the farm. The line of separation between the red shale and the gray clay soils, when mapped out, ran NE to SW! In fact it represented a subsurface fracture zone and a chance for finding water. Before he left that day, Matt and I marked out two likely spots.

End of story? Not yet. I now had a dilemma. None of the dowser’s spots and the geologist’s spots were anywhere near each other. Despite my scientific leaning, I could not ignore the success I had last year that was based on the advice of my friend the dowser. The first attempt would be at one of his sites. I called the Stothoffs who sent driller Jim Kintzel. He set up and started down – I waited anxiously. But it was not to be. After going 400 feet and finding no water, we stopped.

I was eager to try again. After all, the second try had been successful at my home farm. We picked one of the geologist’s sites. Jim got set up to start the next morning. By the time I got there, Jim had been drilling for several hours, but I could tell what was going on from a long ways away. Jim and his helper were wearing rain suits. Since it wasn’t raining, water was coming from somewhere!! The well was a success. The water company’s low pressure and high prices would bother me no more.

The Stothoffs say that I am a lucky guy to find two good wells in our area. I agree that I am lucky, but not for that reason. I am lucky to be a farmer, a pursuit that challenges me, demands my full attention, and always teaches me new and interesting things.