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“We were devastated.” Ann Arbor residents say local mining activities are causing wells to dry up

ANN ARBOR TOWNSHIP, Michigan (CBS DETROIT) – Residents of a rural community five miles from downtown Ann Arbor said their private wells went dry in January.

They said the new owner of a local mine, Mid Michigan Materials, began aggressively draining water from the Vella Pit as they ramped up operations. Residents say they first noticed a loss of water pressure before some lost water completely.

According to them, a total of 25 wells have dried up in less than a year.

“We had just returned from vacation and we had a dog sitter here and she told us that our water sputtered,” says resident Robin Kunkel. “We didn’t think much of it, and when my husband went to shower the next morning, there was no water.”

Kunkel said she and her husband called a drilling company to assess the problem. They were told that their well was dry.

“We were shocked,” says Kunkel. “We were devastated. When someone says to you, ‘You don’t have water,’ it’s unbelievable.”

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They were told that their water level had dropped 16 feet in a short period of time and they would have to dig another 20 feet to reach the water.

Resident Amy Olszewski said she first encountered the problem in June 2020 when her well pump stopped working.

“Our water is disappearing,” she said. “They’re basically taking our water out of the ground and pumping it out somewhere else. Once that water is gone, it’s gone forever… Is their business more important than our water?”

Residents said Mid Michigan Materials drives heavy gravel trucks on residential roads after hours, kicking up dust and creating constant noise. Community members are concerned about the health consequences of inhaling the dust.

Michael Watts purchased property adjacent to the mine around the time Mid Michigan Materials purchased the Vella Pit in 2020. He showed CBS News Detroit where the water pumped from the mine seeps deep into his land.

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“They’re effectively consuming about four to five million gallons a day, lowering our aquifer, lowering the wells and pumping it into the wetlands, which are protected and unlicensed,” Watts said.

A spokesperson for the company said they pump only two million gallons of water a day and have taken responsibility for its impact on nearby wells, paying for its replacement.

“Because they had not experienced such a problem before, in addition to repairing those wells, they voluntarily started a major hydrogeological survey of the aquifer in that particular target area,” said company spokesman John Sellek.

“It’s not the entire municipality. We don’t see a huge area affected; it’s just a handful of wells directly near the facility. It’s important to note that we’re operating within all of the permits required by both the municipality and the municipality. and by the state.”

Still, community members fear the aquifer will dry up completely if the company continues to drain at its current rate.

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“All our neighbors are nervous because they’re wondering, are we next to go?” Kunkel said. “Are we the next ones without water?”

Ann Arbor Township officials have said they are investigating possible violations by the company.

Residents have launched a website for more information.

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