Scientists will sink more than 1.4 miles of wells into northern Kent County and southern New Castle County aquifers in the coming year, hoping to pump out a flood of new information about groundwater quantity and quality in current and future growth areas.
The Delaware Geological Survey and state Water Supply Coordinating Council are collaborating in the work, backed earlier this year by a $600,000 state grant.
Previous studies recommended the new well network to expand a thinly spread system heavily reliant on private utilities and a handful of public water suppliers and individual farm, business and household wells.
"We want to see what the regional picture is," said A. Scott Andres, a senior scientist and hydrogeologist with DGS and a University of Delaware professor. "The goal is to have technical, unbiased science behind decisions to regulate or manage."
Members of the water supply council recommended the studies after droughts in 1995 and 1999 revealed fragmentation and potential supply weaknesses in Delaware's northernmost and most-densely populated areas. Those conclusions led to proposals to develop an additional 2 billion gallons of drought reserves, while also placing environmental protection caps on withdrawals from the creeks and streams that supply about 70 percent of northern New Castle County's needs.
Some of the council's more-recent efforts have focused on areas south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, where groundwater supplies virtually all private taps and public utilities.
Gerald Kauffman, the state's water supply coordinator, said last week that researchers believe Kent and Sussex county shallow aquifers accumulate huge amounts of water, an average of 500,000-700,000 gallons per day per square mile across the two counties' 1,522 squ