West Vincent Couple Seeking To Join Spring-water Market They Want To Withdraw Up To 100,000 Gallons A Day From A Spring On Their Land. Protests Are Expected.

Posted: March 06, 1997

Forget corn and soybeans. These days, water appears to be the cash crop of choice in northern Chester County.

Recently, Michael and Janet Polay decided to jump into the profitable spring-water market by filing a curative amendment in West Vincent Township. If approved, it would allow them to withdraw up to 100,000 gallons a day from a spring on their property on St. Andrews Road. The first hearing on the amendment is set for April 7 in the Ludwigs Corner Fire Hall.

In their application to the township, the Polays said they want to build a spring house and storage tanks for the water, as well as a system of pipes and pumps. They propose using tanker trucks to transport the water from the property to a commercial entity for bottling, distribution and sale. They might also undertake this last task themselves.

``It is a commodity like any other, and it's coming right out of the ground,'' said Michael Polay. ``At one point, it occurred to me that this was a salable commodity.''

The couple joins Warwick Township entrepreneur Stanley Hess, whose attempts to sell spring water from his farm are stalled in Commonwealth Court, and the Perrier company, which is in a tussle with South Coventry Township over its plans to withdraw up to 95,000 gallons daily from a new well and bottle it in Allentown.

The Polays hired West Chester attorney David Malman, the lawyer who until recently represented Hess. Hess lost the case in both the township and Chester County Court and has appealed to Commonwealth Court.

Malman said the West Vincent zoning ordinance was exclusionary because it does not permit the collection and removal of spring water for commercial purposes. The proposed ``cure'' for this alleged constitutional defect is to allow such a use in the residentially zoned area where the Polays' 10.8-acre tract is located, argued Malman in documents submitted to the township.

Unlike the Hess and Perrier projects, which opponents argued threaten the integrity of French Creek and its watershed, the Polay spring is in the headwaters area of the Brandywine Creek.

Polay said the spring water is captured in a pond on the property. The overflow is discharged through a pipe into a tributary of Black Horse Brook, which flows into the Marsh Creek reservoir, an impoundment governed by an interstate compact between Pennsylvania and Delaware. As a result, his application is likely to generate the same heat from residents and conservationists as have the Hess case and the Perrier project.

Robert Struble Jr., executive director of the Brandywine Valley Association, said he would examine the application and try to estimate its impact on the water supply for which the reservoir was designed.

The Brandywine is the sole source of public water for the Borough of Downingtown and the City of Wilmington. It also is a major source for West Chester and surrounding communities.

``If they are counting on so much water being there, and 100,000 gallons less is not going to be there, then come September, that might mean something,'' said Struble. Late summer and early fall are traditionally times of low stream flows, he said.

Ralph Heister, executive director of the Green Valleys Association, an environmental organization based in West Vincent Township, said the proposed withdrawal was the equivalent of 333 new homes.

The trend of tapping spring water for commercial use is one that Heister said he found disturbing because of the negative effect it would eventually have on the insects and fish that define the quality of the region's streams.

``If everybody that owns a spring with potable water does what they [the Polays] want to do, we won't have any streams,'' Heister said. ``The Brandywine has a lot of demands on it, and to take out 100,000 gallons a day is quite an insult.''

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