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Wadmalaw Island Water Crisis Remains Unresolved, Few Choices Are Left
10/19/2016 3:38:27 PM

Anna Johnson
By Barney Blakeney

Hurricane Matthew brought a lot of water to the Lowcountry, but many Wadmalaw Island residents still are remain thirsty for clean water.

Hurricane Matthew landed in the region almost one year after the unprecedented flood of 2015 inundated South Carolina. But despite all that water in the last year, residents of Wadmalaw Island still don’t have the quality of water necessary for daily consumption. It’s an issue Charleston County Councilwoman Anna Johnson has tried to help resolve the past two years.

Wadmalaw Island at Charleston County’s easternmost corner remains an isolated rural area with a population of about 3,000 predominantly black residents. It is one of the county’s most neglected areas. Development throughout the county is spreading, but it’s taking a long time to reach the farthest corners. Public water and sewer lines don’t extend to Wadmalaw Island.

For many residents deep wells that provide uncontaminated drinking water is unobtainable. Last year some of those residents took their plight to county council. Rev. William Jones, grew up on Wadmalaw Island. He’s been leading a charge to secure clean water for residents. But there have been obstacles. And the natural events of the past year only have exacerbated those efforts.

Earlier this year Johnson and county council tried to offer some relief to residents whose shallow well water contained high levels of mineral contaminants. One county-wide program offers funding for deep wells. But the county’s financial resources also don’t go deep enough.

Charleston County is a recipient of HUD funds which are used to address the needs of low-to-moderate income residents. The need for clean water remains one of the top priorities for these funds.  Last year, County Council authorized $225,000 of this funding to be directed towards assisting our qualifying households in the rural communities with an upgrade to their existing well and/or septic system.

Approximately 100 households are on the waiting list county-wide. About 25 are located in Wadmalaw.  The waiting list does not indicate that a service can be provided.  Eligibility considerations that must be reviewed include the financial status of the household and ensuring that the home is owner-occupied and the applicant has clear title to the property.

Once a household is certified as eligible, an on-site assessment is conducted of the well/septic system and potential location for upgrade. Sometimes, due to the nature of living in the Lowcountry, certain households may not be able to receive services.  For instance, if the assessment indicates that the water table, soil conditions or the like would hinder an upgrade from producing desired benefits.

Since 2012, the County upgraded nine residential wells in the rural, coastal region of Johns Island, Younges Island, Wadmalaw Island and Edisto. One-third of the wells required a reverse osmosis system. This system is recommended when the iron levels of water are above the recommended limits.  This is a costly solution at $1,250 per system.
Even with the addition of a reverse osmosis system, oftentimes the levels of minerals in the water continue to be out of the suggested range which can affect the color, the smell, the taste and quality of water.  Even though the quality of the water may not be highly desirable, DHEC’s scientific analysis indicates that the water is safe to drink.

Out of the nine wells the County upgraded over the last few years in this area, close to 70 percent of the wells tested were found to have water above the recommended mineral levels.  In fact, half of those contained water that tested outside of the range in two and sometimes even three categories—generally manganese, chloride and hardness.

A high level of iron produces cloudy water which turns to orange and leaves reddish residue behind. Elevated levels of manganese cause a coating to form inside plumbing which may break free and leave gray or black residue in water. Lastly, if water is determined to be very hard, when heated, it will leave behind a white, chalky scale and a powdery substance on plumbing features.

County council has doubled the amount it allocates for the program, but that won’t solve the problem for residents with shallow wells, Johnson acknowledges. That’s only going to change when public water and sewer lines are extended to the island. Residents have fought that. Jones says that resistance is as futile as it is impractical.

“We’ve been getting bottled water from the county for drinking, but that doesn’t solve the problem. What about washing clothes and taking showers? Some of our neighbors are blocking efforts to get water and sewer saying they don’t want development. But when you look at the impact the water has on health out here, the choice is clear,” Jones said.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Submitted: 10/22/2016
"DHEC’s scientific analysis indicates that the water is safe to drink" Now its sewer as well?

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