BHI Underbelly Exposed!

by Dr. Paul J. Hearty
Director of Conservation

Bald Head Island Conservancy

February 26, 2009 – Bald Head Island, North Carolina (NC) - The subsurface geology, geometry of the aquifers, and nature of the groundwater resources of Bald Head Island are barely known, yet these rocks and sediments may provide a long-term supply of fresh water to the barrier island for decades to come. By learning about and monitoring the aquifer we can better use and conserve our freshwater resources. This study puts the BHI community on the cutting edge of water conservation in the North Carolina and nationwide.

The sustainability of the groundwater resources on Bald Head Island will be assured by a comprehensive subsurface hydrogeological project (HGP). The project will drill an array of new shallow and deep wells across the island. The Conservancy-led HGP groundwater-aquifer initiative, in concert with the BHI Village and Club, was approved by the Village Council on the 22 February 2009. The drilling, well-construction, and evaluation of the BHI upper unconfined and lower semi-confined aquifers will be a team evaluation by the BHI Conservancy and Applied Resource Management, P.C., of Hampstead, NC under the expertise of Mr. Jim Cornette, P.G.

The HGP will explore the sediment and rock layers beneath BHI in a strategic array of both deep and shallow drill holes at ten localities around BHI and Middle Island. At each site, the deep boring will penetrate approximately 100 feet. Each well will yield sediment samples taken at 5-foot intervals. From 10 of these wells “stratigraphic sections”, or rock layers, a unique 3-dimensional image of our aquifer will be constructed, providing a map of the various rocks and sediments that define water resources on BHI. Adjacent shallow wells will penetrate 25 to 35 feet, providing a means to access the upper unconfined aquifer. Samples collected from these cores will be analyzed for a variety of characteristics including grain size (gravel, sand, silt, clay or mixtures thereof), composition (mineral grains, organics fossils, etc), water yielding and conductive capability, and geologic age. These characteristics along with water quality will help us understand how freshwater is stored and impacted by our many activities on BHI. By monitoring the aquifer seasonally over several years we will be able to make decisions about how best to protect and maintain our freshwater resources.

Although much of the fresh water on BHI currently arrives via pipeline from Brunswick County, the future strategy for the island is to become more self-sufficient by producing and recycling most of the fresh water on the island within our own hydrologic cycle….in a sense becoming more environmentally sound, and drought, storm, and supply-pipeline-loss “resistant”. In the coming months, three reverse osmosis plants will come on line, greatly increasing the fresh water yield from on the island. The vast majority of waste water will be treated, purified, and sterilized and returned to the unconfined aquifer via infiltration ponds for natural filtration and irrigation use. This constant aquifer recharge will further defend the fresh water resource from saltwater intrusion. Only the reject water from the RO system will be lost from the island. Through the ingenuity of design and detailed understanding of the extent and yield of the water resource, it is expected that BHI will set a precedent and become of model of sustainability of freshwater resources for barrier and other oceanic islands.

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