As a young girl growing up in Wilmington, Trish Whetham dreamed of owning horses. In 2004, her dream came true.
Now 59, Whetham runs Morningstar Stables, a sprawling compound in London Britain Township, Chester County, where she lives with her husband and where she says her two adult daughters learned strong work ethics.
Like many of her neighbors in the county's rural southeastern corner - as well as 1.6 million around Philadelphia and South Jersey, and more than 13 million households throughout the country - she and her family use a well for water to drink, to cook, to wash.
The eight horses she owns or boards consume at least 80 gallons per day.
Thus, Whetham and her neighbors are worried about a Delaware water company's plans to pump about 200,000 gallons of water per day from a nearby well to support water service for customers in Delaware and part of New Garden Township, Chester County.
Despite the company's assurances, residents fear a worst-case scenario in which the agency pumps too much water out of the aquifer or something else goes wrong and their wells dry up.
"It could risk the whole charm of this area, running out of water," Whetham said.
On Sept. 16, the Delaware River Basin Commission decided to postpone a decision on whether to allow Artesian Resources Corp. to pump groundwater out of a well in New Garden near the Broad Run tributary of White Clay Creek.
The delay was a result of a groundswell of concern from residents who fear Artesian not only will deplete their wells but damage the federally protected White Clay Creek.
More than 2,000 people signed a petition against Artesian's plans.
Residents refer to an example four decades ago across the county line in Hockessin, Del. The shallow wells of at least a few homeowners there dried up due to pumping by Artesian.
Because of this, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reduced the amount of water Artesian could pump, according to a permit it issued in 1975. But Delaware officials did not know the details of the extent of the problem.
John Barndt, manager of the Water Supply Section at the environmental agency, said he was not aware of any similar problems from Artesian since then.
Company officials said they would work to prevent negative impacts on the environment.
"We are sensitive to making sure any withdrawals are sustainable and they are done without negatively impacting the wells of those in the area," said Joseph DiNunzio, executive vice president at Artesian.
Artesian officials cite a pumping test in the spring that their experts said showed no negative effects. Opponents argue the test included only seven homes and did not take into account seasonal variations.
This is not the first time residents have banded together to try to prevent Artesian from pumping from the well that Artesian purchased around the time Whetham and her family moved to the area. Residents formed the group Save Our Water.
Artesian backed off from using the well at the time because it wasn't viewed as being as critically needed as it is today, DiNunzio said.
"It's clear customers' expectations about the reliability of service have increased," he said.
Last year, Artesian applied to the Delaware River Basin Commission to use the New Garden well. It also applied to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to expand its service area in Chester County. That application also is pending.
Residents who oppose Artesian's plans for the well say the company's proposed monitoring methods are inadequate, saying they don't go far enough either to prevent depletion of nearby wells or to aid residents if water levels drop.
They also say Artesian should look to other options, such as buying more of its water from the Chester Water Authority, in Delaware County.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), who has been supporting opposition to Artesian's plans, introduced legislation Sept. 11 in response to residents' concerns.
The bill would give local water-resource authorities more power when companies want to draw from wells, put more responsibility on state agencies to communicate with residents, and ensure that a private entity is responsible for new wells if residents' wells dry up.
Marion and Jane Waggoner, a retired couple living in New Garden, reinvigorated the group Save Our Water for the renewed fight against Artesian's use of the well in their town.
A year ago, the group became a nonprofit water advocacy group whose members also intend to help preserve water resources during future land development.
The Waggoners grew up on farms in Illinois and have experienced droughts and depleted wells that showed them how precious water is, they said.
They moved to Chester County in 1999 for the scenery and open space and built their dream house, which included a well.
"We think there should be water rights for us and this doesn't seem right," Jane Waggoner said. "This seems to be a water grab for profit."