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Massively salty groundwater relief efforts begun at Plank Road

Jeff King has to haul water by wagon with his two draft horses to keep his pigs, cows and chickens hydrated and to water his gardens. The salt content of local groundwater is far too high to drink and will kill his plants.

Jeff King has to haul water by wagon with his two draft horses to keep his pigs, cows and chickens hydrated and to water his gardens. The salt content of local groundwater is far too high to drink and will kill his plants. Photo by John Grybos.

— The cavalry has finally arrived for the salt-stricken residents of Plank Road, though its vanguard is a lone water buffalo.

The water buffalo, actually a 500-gallon, trailer-mounted tank filled with fresh water, is the first step in combating a long-standing problem with massively salty groundwater for homeowners. Arriving Friday is a 5,000 gallon tanker of fresh water.

Jeff King and Cheryle Saltmarsh, who live together on Plank Road, are organizing their neighbors to make a collective plea for assistance, and have a roster of a dozen others filling out nuisance complaint forms to submit to the Clinton County Health Department. Another resident came to them following the March 28 town meeting, where the town board declared the undrinkable water situation an emergency.

King started construction on his Plank Road home in 1997, when he was highway superintendent. When he first drilled his well, the water was great, he said.

Now, said Saltmarsh, “It’s like we’re living right on the ocean.”

Residents aren't sure yet what's causing the problem, but an investigation will soon be launched.

"If I were living on a salt mine, I'd be a rich man," said King. "But I know I'm not."

People had approached government entities for help one at a time in the past, said Saltmarsh, but were dismissed as having individual problems. Getting everybody to file complaints together was key to seeing action, said Saltmarsh.

John Kanoza, director of environmental health at the Clinton County Health Department, said the Environmental Protection Agency regulates the public water supply, but doesn’t regulate private wells. It’s the same for his department, which is tasked with enforcing the EPA’s regulations.

What his department does have is the nuisance complaint program and an emergency assistance program.

“This is clearly an emergency,” said Kenoza. “You’ve got to cut through the red tape and get something done as quickly as you can for the residents.”

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