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Karst session slated

By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

From caves to controversial water dowsing, this year’s two-day Growing Communities on Karst conference will offer participants a unique way to learn more about the Eastern Panhandle’s geology.

The meeting agenda includes national speakers and a water dowsing demonstration featuring Louis Matacia of the American Society of Dowsers, said Twila Carr, an environmental resource specialist with the state Division of Environmental Protection who is helping organize the conference.

Carr said the cave and karst window field trip are set for Sept. 14, while the water dowsing demonstration will be part of the next day’s agenda. Water dowsing typically involves using a Y- or L-shaped twig or rod to locate water beneath the ground.

She said the water dowsing demonstration may be somewhat controversial, because of how this practice – which is also known as water witching – has split the scientific community.

“This should be very interesting with this controversial person on this panel, because the geologists are not going to like this guy at all. But then again, there are a lot of people with a scientific background who do believe that water dowsing is possible,” she said. “And who knows? Maybe this will be your chance to find a very large water supply, one that nobody has ever found before. It may come down to whether or not you believe.”

Scott Eaton, an associate professor of geology at James Madison University, also will be part of the program.

While this is the sixth year for the conference, Carr believes that its varied agenda may attract even more participants in addition to the usual developers, government officials, geologists, engineers and scientists.

“This conference is for everyone, because Berkeley and Jefferson counties are very unique as far as geology and soil. Where else can you have a sink hole form overnight in the back of your property?” Carr said.

Local property owners will have an opportunity to hear information that may help them with their own homes, she said. That’s particularly important because of the area’s karst geology.

Karst, by definition, forms when groundwater dissolves pockets of limestone in bedrock. The resulting topography can include caves, sinkholes and disappearing streams.

“You don’t necessarily know what’s under the ground here. So if you build a house, there may have been a cave there, a large supply of water or no water whatsoever. You could have numerous things happening with fractures and faults, because karst is so unique,” she said.

Participants will learn how to identify an active sink hole and how to help stabilize structures, she said.

Other topics will include geology mapping, common contaminants in groundwater, electric resistivity testing, LIDAR imaging, groundwater remediation techniques and karst technical guidance.

The conference will be held at the National Conservation Training Center near Shepherdstown.

Pre-registration for the two-day event, which includes transportation for the field trip and lunch, is $100. The cost will increase to $120 for those who pay at the door. Registration for one day only is $60.

It is being sponsored by the Potomac Headwaters RC&D and DEP.

Anyone who is interested can register by calling (304) 267-8953, ext. 5, or e-mailing phrcd.6003@verizon.net.