Water on tap in Fenwick Island

The Fenwick Island Environmental Committee heard from representatives from Artesian Water Company at their monthly meeting on June 9, learning about how water gets “from the aquifer to your home.”

Artesian Water serves 250,000 customers, or roughly 30 percent of Delaware residents. They have approximately 74,100 metered customers and supply 7.8 billion gallons annually. They have 1,086 miles of main and 172 active wells, averaging 300 to 400 feet deep. They have the capacity to store 40.5 million gallons of water. The average cost per day of residential water use (based on a 16,000 gallon quarterly use) is $1.33, or less than a penny per gallon.

Jeff Price, who has been with Artesian for more than 20 years, explained the process of how water gets to the tap.

“We drill wells, very similar to the small ones homes have. The difference is they are much larger and much deep — 300 to 400 feet deep. There is iron in the water, high concentrations in the water,” he noted. “What we do is we have two plants that service this area, one in Bayville on Route 54 and one in South Bethany. Both of them are iron removal plants.

“You could consider them surface-water treatment, similar to wastewater treatment, where we go through a process where we oxidize the water with a chemical that burns the iron out and brings it out of a solution with a couple of different chemicals,” he explained. “Once the iron is burned and brought out of solution, you can see the water kind of looks like iced tea. We add some other chemicals to get it to drop out in the clarifier. The clear water runs over a weir, and we pump it out through a filter, which gives it the finished quality. Then we chlorinate and put fluoride in the water here.”

Artesian then meters all of the water used and bills the customer quarterly, something Price said might soon change to monthly billing, for added customer convenience.

The majority of Fenwick Island’s water comes from the Bayville water plant off Route 54. It can produce 2 millions gallons of water per day, according to Price.

The 180-foot-tall, gravity-fed, elevated storage tank holds 1 million gallons. They use an elevated storage tank for fire protection and, to have water in the event of a storm, it is backed-up by a very large generator. The other local plant is in South Bethany, where there is a half-million-gallon tank that can also produce 2 million gallons of water per day, or about 1,400 gallons per minute.

Artesian removes about 20 parts per million of iron from water at the Bayville facility and about 9 parts per million from South Bethany, and brings it down to less than .3 parts per million, which is the state standard’s secondary requirement.

Chris Clark, a member of the Fenwick Island Town Council and the town’s environmental committee, asked if Artesian tests for any pharmaceuticals in the water — a high-profile issue of late, after testing of some municipal supplies revealed substantial levels of pharmaceuticals in some supplies even at the tap. He asked if Artesian has any plans to be more progressive than what state requirements might regulate in that regard.

“At this time, the state does not require it,” answered Price. “We have always done and will continue to do what the state requirements are, and sometimes have gone above and beyond.

“For example,” he said, “the state requires bacteria testing every three months, and we pull one every single month. We’ll have to wait and see what the state wants to have done, and we will follow suit. And yes, if we feel we need to do more, we will,” answered Price.

Added Joanne Rufft of Artesian on the issue, “At a meeting I just attended, they described parts per billion and per trillion as a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, or having to drink six to eight glasses of water per day for 400 years to get as much caffeine as in a cup of water.

“I’m not saying it shouldn’t be studied,” she emphasized. “It is being studied. They are taking a hard look at it. But, they are saying the effects are more so on aquatic life than human life. Probably there will be 10 more years of studies before we can pinpoint what it is we need to do.”

“It is on the radar,” said Price.

“At this point, they just can’t link it to a human health concern,” said Rufft.

Clark also asked about plans to reuse so-called “grey water,” which is wastewater from uses such as bathing, laundry and dish washing. Price said Artesian has “kicked it around” and it is in the future.

The Environmental Committee plans to have a representative from Delmarva Power at their next meeting, to talk about ways to save electricity and give guidance on their streetlight survey, which has the goals of preserving both energy and the town’s view of the night sky.

The July meeting is to be held on Wednesday, July 9, at 2 p.m. at town hall.