Cape Water

Dennis Pruchnicki Jr., of Ocean City, holds up a pump he installs in new wells to draw water for residential and business customers of Cape Water Works in Dennis Township.

DENNIS TOWNSHIP — An Absecon well-drilling company opened a second location in Cape May County this year to take advantage of South Jersey’s shrinking pool of private wells.

More homeowners and businesses are hooking up to public water as companies such as New Jersey American Water Co. extend water service to new neighborhoods.

This is drying up the available pool of potential customers for Absecon Electric Motor Works in Absecon and its new sister company, Cape Water Works in Dennis Township.

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With newer materials such as PVC instead of steel pipe, new wells typically last longer and need less maintenance and repairs than older systems.

“Are we basically putting ourselves out of business? In a way, yes,” said owner Dennis Pruchnicki, of Ocean City.

His late father, Joseph Pruchnicki, started the pump-repair business in 1938. Dennis Pruchnicki joined the company after high school and started focusing on well-drilling in 1973.

The business still repairs pumps of all kinds, but has turned its attention south of its Absecon headquarters.

“Atlantic County has had a lot of public water installed. We were becoming more seasonal with golf-course work and school irrigation,” Pruchnicki said. “We wanted to do more year-round jobs. Upper and Dennis (townships) still have a lot of private wells.”

Today, the company is a third-generation business with his three children, Dennis Jr., Steve and Becca.

About 30 percent of the company’s business was in Cape May County last year.

Most potable wells in Atlantic and Cape May counties are less than 250 feet deep and draw from the Cohansey Aquifer, but the company has dug some in excess of 300 feet in Cumberland County.

“We very rarely encounter saltwater intrusion, except at the edge of the coast,” Dennis Pruchnicki Jr. said.

The company is in indirect competition for customers with New Jersey American Water, which provides public water service across Atlantic and Cape May counties. Sometimes, towns will install public water in neighborhoods after a contamination plume is identified, as happened in Upper Township in 1999.

Pruchnicki Sr. said drilling a deeper well can solve a contamination issue in some wells.

“The wells that are polluted are very shallow and near gas stations or spills,” he said.

The company has a heavy truck fitted with its own drilling platform. Employees have to figure out how to get the truck around landscaping and electric lines to the designated drilling spot.

Pruchnicki Sr. is familiar with the hydrology of South Jersey. But every job is slightly different, he said.

A typical well takes about a day to drill and connect. The drill draws up sand and sediment into a retaining box.

“When we drill, we look for coarse sand. That’s where the water flows best,” he said.

Stainless-steel well pumps draw water from inside the plastic pipe. The water pools in collecting tanks suited to the size of the home or business.

Pruchnicki said it is unusual for Cohansey Aquifer wells to go dry. Typically, the culprit is a problem with the well rather than the availability of groundwater.

The Pinelands Commission and U.S. Geologic Survey are studying South Jersey’s groundwater, which is supported largely by the sprawling Pine Barrens.

The U.S. Geologic Survey drilled 140 wells across the Pinelands to monitor the rising and falling water levels. The agency is keeping tabs on the flow of creeks and streams as well.

South Jersey’s aquifers have held up well over the years. Pruchnicki Sr. said he finds similar water levels in new wells as he found in his well logs from the 1970s.

“Groundwater acts as a sponge. Surface water may change, but the groundwater doesn’t vary that much,” he said.

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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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