Charleston County weighs concerns over Wadmalaw's well water

Charleston County weighs concerns over Wadmalaw's well water

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Some Wadmalaw locals say they're not happy with their access to quality drinking water.

Public water is not available on the island so locals get their drinking water from private wells.

Charleston County Council recently received a petition of more than 120 signatures to bring water service to the island.

On Tuesday night, council agreed to put a portable water trailer at the St. John's fire station.

Wadmalaw Island resident Ronald Jones said his family regularly buys bottled water. He said he doesn't have a home filter so he won't drink their well water; he said it smells like sulfur and sometimes has black particles.
"I hope they'll do the water station and work on getting a water line," Jones said. He's already re-dug his well. 

"We have spent thousands of dollars on wells and filtering systems," Kim Walker, Wadmalaw resident said. "We had iron and other contaminants with our original wells (we had a filter system on that) and would drink the water. Our shallow wells dried up two years ago, which led us to having to drill a deep well 500 feet down."

Walker said the cost of a new well system would be around $2,000 to $3,000, and they were not able to afford to put on a filter, to remove the sulfur smell and taste.

"We will not drink our water without a filter," Walker said. "We purchase gallons and bottles of water to drink and cook in on a weekly basis. I am supportive of a water station for a temporary solution because there are people that are in need of immediate access to clean water to use, but I would ultimately like to see a waterline brought out to Wadmalaw Island."

Frank Pandullo of Charleston County Public Works Dept. said the water dispenser at the library would indeed be temporary. A city water line is just one long term option county officials may explore.

Some locals are opposed to bringing a water line to the island because of the potential development that may come with a public water source.

Sarah Fleming McLester, of Wadmalaw Island, said she chose to live in the rural island "because it offered that rare combination of living in the country, but with proximity to the urban area where I work." She hopes that the community and government can find a compromise without turning to the water line option.

"Chief among my concerns are that the small number of my neighbors who are struggling with maintaining habitable homes for their families are helped, and that their need for clean, safe water is met," McLester said. "Please know that solutions that involve helping our neighbors dig new wells, monitor water quality, and maintain their homes is well within the scope of our community. A water line will bring only more costs, borne by those who can ill afford existing solutions, and also more development, which we most certainly do not want on Wadmalaw Island."

Other residents, like Henry Holst, said loan programs to fund well repairs can be explored, while avoiding a possible tax increase that could come with a water line.

In fact, Charleston County is the recipient of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds, which are used to address the needs of our low-to-moderate income community members. According to officials, County Council has authorized more than $1.5 million of HUD's Community Development Block Grant funding to be directed towards assisting qualifying households in the rural communities with an upgrade to their existing well and/or septic system since 2008.

On average, officials said it costs approximately $6,000 per well upgrade.  Currently, there are close to 80 households on the county waiting list. 27 are located in Wadmalaw Island.

""The end product is safe water," Holst said. "If the community wants that to happen, it will happen."

Meanwhile, Jones said he'd welcome the development if it means convenience to quality water.

"I've wanted the for years and years, and even after I'm gone, I think my kids and grandkids will benefit from it," Jones said, adding he's gotten used to Johns Island traffic so could get used to extra businesses and cars on Wadmalaw.

Charleston County Council will vote to approve the temporary water station during Tuesday's council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Pandullo said he expects county officials, along with the legal team, to present a long term solution to council for consideration in about six to nine months.    Charleston County leaders said a rough estimate on costs of a water line would total more than $30 million, not including a tapping fee for residents and other fees.

According to the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control (D.H.E.C.) website, it is the owner's responsibility to test private well water for contaminants. D.H.E.C. recommends yearly testing for bacteria and nitrates. More information on testing can be found online.

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