DNR testing soil samples at Hobcaw BaronyResearch about aquifers, ground water to continue for 50 years

  • Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Updated Friday, April 4, 2014 3:26 am

Clayton Stairs/Times Brenda Hockensmith, senior hydrologist with DNR, left, and Andy Walkin, a geologist with DNR, center, look at core samples collected at the Hobcaw Barony site.

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Hundreds of soil samples collected from a drill site at Hobcaw Barony are providing scientists from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources with important data about local ground water.

Research at the site will continue for the next 50 years, scientists say.

George Chastain, executive director of Hobcaw Barony, is excited about this long-term research project.

“We are a research foundation and this cutting edge research fits in perfectly with the Baruch Foundation’s mission,” Chastain said.

“It is our hope that other research grows out of this agreement with DNR.”

He said researchers with Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, which both have a presence at Hobcaw Barony as part of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, have shown interest in the research.

The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, a nonprofit that owns the 16,000-acre wildlife refuge, was created to use the land for the “purposes of teaching and/or research in forestry, marine biology, and the care and propagation of wildlife, flora and fauna in connection with colleges and/or universities in the state of South Carolina.”

Chastain said the reason DNR chose Hobcaw for the drill site, other than its location, was that it is a stable and protected site.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team are the federal partners for the project and are supplying the drilling rig.

Joe Gellici, chief hydrologist with DNR, said that although most of our drinking water comes from the Waccamaw River, ground water, which travels through sandy sections 500 feet below the surface called aquifers, help supply water to rivers.

These aquifers are also used for backup for drinking water during droughts.

Scientists are concerned that water levels in local aquifers are decreasing and there could be salt water mixing with the fresh water, which is called intrusion.

“We also worry about subsidence, where the land surface drops subtly over time,” Gellici said.

According to data collected by Brenda Hockensmith, senior hydrologist with DNR, Georgetown is at the center of a cone of depression, which means the water level of the Black River Aquifer, directly under it, could be dropping, along with the land above it.

“We have been seeing this cone of depression in southern Georgetown County,” Hockensmith said. “It can’t be explained by water use values and we don’t know what causes it.”

She said they are looking at a cumulous effect.

Scientists are also using the soil samples to determine where fault lines are located.

Dr. Bill Clendenin, a geologist with DNR, said the Oceta Fault line points to Winyah Bay, off Georgetown’s coast.

He said evidence of the fault line can be seen in “skid marks” in soil samples taken from Hobcaw Barony where the layers of earth have moved against each other.

“Our hypothesis is that Winyah Bay is where it is as a result of faulting,” Clendenin said.

He said that the research and drilling being done at this location can be used for years to come.

“Regardless of the reason an area is drilled or mapped, the information does not lose any value to any subsequent studies,” Clendenin said.

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