OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — The National Weather Service says we’re about 6 inches behind last year's rainfall totals. But it's much need water in Ottawa County and they’re trying to figure out how to recharge their water supply before it runs dry.
“It sounds like an out west problem,” said Paul Sachs, Director of Planning and Performance Improvement for Ottawa County. “It's difficult for people to embrace that. They think that water is simply available everywhere.”
Sachs has been warning the public the water beneath their feet is drying up.
“The past studies that we've conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Water Research at MSU, we have verified a drop in that water level in Marshall sandstone of more than 40 feet over the last 35 years,” he said.
And it is only getting worse: he projects another 20 feet will decline over the next 15 years, based on housing developments, lack of rain, and dry summer months.
Paul says there's essentially two water systems beneath Ottawa County, one called the Glacial Drift Aquifer, which replenishes with rainfall. There is also the Marshall Sandstone aquifer, which doesn't recharge well because of a thick layer of clay and knowing where you draw your water from is key.
“When it's drought conditions, people are watering their lawns and then they're starting to feel the effects of their water pump starting to collect air,’ he said.
West Michigan is now flirting between the lines of moderate to severe drought conditions. It is creating the perfect storm for five heavily hit cities including Allendale, Zeeland, Blendon, Robinson, and Olive townships.
Not only could some wells run dry. The water itself could become salty the deeper they dig to reach the water.
“When we think about the limitations of our available water supply, the question is what's more important in the long term. “Water conservation is it's credibly important on your grounds, your landscaping also inside of your home. And again, it may sound like an out west problem. But this is local, this is a very serious issue that we’re dealing with,” he said.
Officials are now working with agriculturalists, local government, and watershed agencies on the best policies and regulations to implement in the future, as they will be crucial for the economic and population growth of Ottawa County.