The future of ground water, or the lack of it, is the topic for a public forum in Connell tonight.
Blame the basalt, said Paul Stoker, executive director of the Ground Water Management Area project.
More than two dozen communities and 330,000 acres of crops in Franklin, Adams, Grant and Lincoln counties could be stuck with empty wells within two decades, he said, because of the complex relationship involving basalt layers and deep wells.
Stoker and other experts will lead the public meeting at 7 p.m. in the Connell Community Center, 211 E. Elm St.
"Most people are astonished and frustrated. Some are in denial," Stoker said Monday.
"We've been losing wells since 1985, and some, big ones, are going down every day. We have some 3,000 feet deep," Stoker said.
The problem was first noticed in the Odessa Subarea, and the ground water management project, started in 1998, has been using state money to crack the mystery of why water levels are declining.
The problem is the basalt underneath the Mid-Columbia. Dozens of volcanic flows laid down layers sandwiched upon layers, resulting in a three-dimensional subterranean maze.
Ground water fills the voids, but accessing it can be tricky because dikes, folds and dams developed hundreds and thousands of feet underground as the lava cooled.
Stoker said more than a decade of study in the four-county area has produced a model that attempts to show how the water flows.
Testing of wells over the past year in the Connell area revealed the water's geochemical makeup, the age and the static level.
"We are aware of the increasing vulnerability of our ground water resource," said Stoker, who noted details of the study will be explained tonight.
There are 25 communities with about 125,000 people and 330,000 acres of highly productive crops in the four-county area that depend solely on ground water, Stoker said.
"Only 75,000 acres are likely sustainable through recharge," Stoker said.
And he noted 23 of the 25 communities that rely on ground water likely will run out within 20 years at current rates of consumption.
Tonight's meeting in Connell is the fourth this year in the Mid-Columbia to explain the Ground Water Management Area project.
Stoker said the state Legislature has not yet decided on approving a $2.2 million request to continue funding the project.
"It is very important the mapping and documentation is triple-checked and documented, because people don't want to believe it," he said.
Solutions to the problem must rely on a surface water supply, such as the Columbia River, he said.
The Connell Sub-Basin Area is bounded by the Lind Coulee/Warden area to the north, and includes Kahlotus and Washtucna, with state Highway 17 on the west edge, and the Adams and Franklin county lines on the east.
Each of the four counties has a county commissioner who serves on the Ground Water Management Area board.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org