Town's water not up to drinking standard

August 06, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Maryland environmental officials said yesterday that Union Bridge's water is safe to drink, even though it doesn't meet state drinking water standards.

Conditions are right in Union Bridge's century-old well -- the town's sole source of drinking water -- to produce diarrhea-causing protozoans, but there is no evidence that giardia and cryptosporidium have infested the water supply.

MDE ordered Union Bridge to fix its well three years ago, when tests showed that bacteria linked to animal wastes were present in the well. Although fecal coliform bacteria are not disease-causing, scientists use them as an indicator that disease-causing organisms may be present.

Union Bridge leaders have been searching for a temporary water supply since the MDE order.

MDE officials suspect that the well's deteriorating casing allowed surface water containing bacteria and the protozoans to enter the well. Cryptosporidium and giardia can survive the water-treatment process that kills bacteria and viruses.

"There is some risk, actually, in [drinking] the water, which is why we're asking the town to do the things [to repair the well]. To say it is unsafe would not be accurate, but it doesn't meet the standards," said John W. Grace, chief of source protection for MDE's public drinking water program.

Union Bridge hasn't suffered outbreaks of diarrhea. But although there is no evidence of the protozoans, "we know the potential is there," Grace said.

Mayor Perry L. Jones said the town's water is safe. "Our water now is probably the best in the county," he said.

Jones is critical of MDE's water testing, which he said produces inaccurate results because technicians taking the samples sometimes fail to follow procedures such as washing their hands with a sterilizing agent.

Town officials thought they had found a replacement water supply in the spring. With financing from a $300,000 state grant to improve the town's water supply, they drilled a well on property owned by the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Co., only to find that the well failed to meet their needs.

The town was seeking a well that would yield 140 gallons a minute. The planned replacement well yielded only 75 gallons minute. The well barely met minimum standards, said James L. Schumacher, special projects manager.

"The quality was also lackluster," he said. "It was high in turbidity and still suffered from contamination from surface water," a problem it shared with the existing well.

Jones said he favors installing a water line to the well at the fire company, to keep it in reserve.

"I hate to see any well abandoned," he said.

Town officials are negotiating with the owner of a well that could serve the town's 1,000 residents while the main well is closed for repairs.

That well, on George Street, yields 140 gallons a minute of "crystal clear" water, Schumacher said. He said the town's next step is to work with a design engineer on a pipeline to transport the water for treatment.

If the town is able to bring the George Street well on line, Union Bridge would be able to shut down its well and repair the crumbling casing.

The George Street well will need repairs before it can be used, MDE's Grace warned in a letter to Union Bridge's consulting engineer. A hole in the casing and seal would have to be repaired and the pit protected from potential contamination, Grace wrote.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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