Friday, July 27, 2018

The Delmar 1983 Water Rust and Iron Problem

As the town entered 1981 there was an increase in the amount of rust in the water system. In 1981 the town entered into a 1.1 Million dollar water system improvement project. The money was obtained from the Farmers Home Administration, in the form of a $600,000 loan and a $500,000 grant. The project had three phases to it. First, new water lines would run to a new well on the south end of town. Some additional lines were installed in a section of town known as Delmar Manor as the system did not form a loop in that section of town and was but a dead end. Phase two was a new 300,000 gallon water tower. Phase three was a new well.

The new well was drilled by Delmarva Drilling Company of Bridgeville. The well was driven 205 feet into the Manokin aquifer. While the well was being it driven, in December of 1981, the well collapsed during installation. Delmarva Drilling said it would have to charge extra for the additional work involved in drilling again and repairing the well. The town engineers on the project Andrews, Miller associates said the drilling company used grouting not specified in the contract and they, Andrew Miller Associates (Although they were also the inspectors for the project) would have to charge the town addition money for additional engineer studies. The Town said, no, they were not paying any additional money to anyone. Thus started a year long finger pointing contest.

Of note the south well was originally drilled to 180 feet where clear usable water was found, however since Federal money was being used the Federal government required for the well to be deeper. At the 205 feet level the water tested okay but developed iron after pumping was started.  This same issue with the state requiring a deeper well and going beyond the good water to rust water would be repeated again in 2008 while drilling a backup well.  We just never learn. 

The 300,000 gallon water tower was built by Brown Steel Co. of Newman, Ga. And put on line in early 1982. The water tower is a classical five leg elevated water tower. One of the problems with this design is local daredevils like to break into the water plant compound, climb the tower and paint graffiti on it. The North Water Tower (single pedestal) that was installed in 2000 has so far prevented or discouraged that type of behavior.

By the summer of 1981 the first complains, in large numbers, of discolored water and rust was heard from users of the water system. By the end of summer the town manager, Robert Martin, was announcing the town would be making more frequent flushing of the system and they would add Calgon (Calgon combines with iron and magnesium to form particles that will not precipitate) to the one working well on the north side of town. An independent lab had tested the well and found 1.1 parts iron per million parts of water. Robert Martin, the town manager, would soon be one of the first causalities of the rust problem. He left about 6 months later.

From April 1982 thru 1983 the town started on a town wide flushing program to clean out the water lines. Prior to this indiscriminate flushing had only stirred up the rust and iron. William C. Wolford of the Maryland State Health Department called for a “super Chlorinating” of the town water system to kill iron bacteria and a systematic method of flushing. He said this should relieve the town of it problems. It didn’t. Town residents were told to run water from their taps to clear them and flush their hot water tanks.

By January 1983 the new well was on line. It was using lime and chlorine for treatment. However the town decides to use aquadene (Aquadene is water treatment compound that supposedly will sequester iron and manganese, eliminate discolored water and remove existing scale and tuberculation) to hold the iron in solution, prohibiting precipitation. The iron content is periodically exceeding 2 parts per million. The new town manager, James Peck, predicates the town will be looking at another year before the rust is cleaned up. Since the town residents only wanted to hear the problem would be corrected over night this had the effect of him extending his arms and crossing his ankles over one another and asking for the nails to be driven in. In another 9 months he will resign and take a job elsewhere.

In May the North well (put on line in June of 1981) went down with a bad pump. This made the south well the only usable well. Since the well was on the south end of town and water had been pumped from the north well for 70 years the flow was reversed. In addition the water from the south well had a higher iron contain. The North well stayed down until November.

The original cast iron water mains installed in 1911 had tuberculated. This is hardened clumps of material in the pipes from corrosion and mineral deposits. The tuberculation will be smooth on the side of the flow of water and build up into a wedge with the high part of the wedge being on the side the water is not flowing against. When the direction of the flow of water was reversed it impacted against this wedge chipping it off sending rust and iron through the system.

In February of 1983, out of frustration due to the water problem, a citizen group formed. The Delmar Citizens Committee For Decent Water was made up of ex-mayor Frank Bonsall and a number of other Mayors and council people from the 1950’s and 1960’s. They were in part the cause of the problem as they had refused to make improvements to the water system while they were in office. They expected immediate results to correct the problem. Often heard was the phrase “It wasn’t like this when I was in office”. This group would eventually become strong enough to determine budgets for the town, direct town employees, and dictate town policy.

With the formation of the citizen’s group, the first of a number of major town council/citizen meetings begin to occur. Citizens with mayonnaise jars full of rust colored water cramped into town hall. Richard B. Howell III of the Office of Sanitary Engineering, Delaware Division of Public Health attends the meeting and said “the presence of iron and cooper sulfate is not a health-related standard. It is not physically harmful. Samples taken show that the iron level is running at or below one milligram per liter. This is not much different from 80 percent of all Sussex county water” Residents such as Jim Campbell are quoted as saying “The water is not fit to drink, make tea out of, coffee or anything else”. Town Manager James Peck says the town’s options are to treat the water with chemicals or install a $200,000 filtration system. He says the rust problem has gotten worst since using aquadene.

The meetings brought out the worst in people. There was much finger pointing.  Everyone expected the problem to be cleared up over night and any answer that differed from that was shouted down.

Invited to the Delmar Citizen Committee meetings were state officials. Again the Director of the Office of Sanitary Engineering, Delaware Division of Environmental Health Richard B. Howell III said to the group; the water meets all primary health standards. The presence of iron, which may cause coloration, staining or odor is an aesthetics, not a health related problem. Howe suggested two sources of the iron; natural content of the groundwater and the corrosion of pipe. He said “Any metallic pipe will be dissolved by water as corrosive as this”. Don Melson of the Delaware Division of Environmental Health said the least expensive possibility is a complete flushing of the system that would involve shutting off the Maryland well and using pressure supplied by the Delaware well to systematically flush every hydrant in town. The process would take about two months. Chemical treating with Chlorine and Aquadene would continue.

In July Matthew Aydelotte of the Delmar Citizens Committee for Decent Water and the Delmar Fire Department begin a systematic flushing of the town’s water system. The town was divided into five water districts. Each being supplied by a 6 or 8 inch main connected to the new 10 inch trunk line. The trunk line runs down Pennsylvania Avenue and connects the 1911 standpipe at the north end with the new elevated storage tank at the south end. Each water district was isolated by the valves and the water mains were back flushed a great many times. The system designed by Matthew Aydelotte tried to duplicate the flow of water before the new well was drilled and put on line. Fire hydrants when opened will create a higher velocity of flow which will pick up rust and flush it out. In the past the mains were flushed without isolating them and this just created a problem of sending rust into the other mains in town.

Matthew Aydelotte is quoted as saying “With the full cooperation of the citizens and the Public Works Department, we can turn our million dollar lemon into a drinkable lemonade”. At that time the water looked more like tea with lemon in it than lemonade.

During this period about 1/3 of the water pumped into the system was dumped on the street in hydrant flushing (So much water was flushed from the system that you could tell where fire hydrants were from the red rust coloring of the paved streets) or poured down the sewer line when homeowners tried to clear their tap water up from rust by running it an excessive amount of time. This also increased the volume of water going to an aged and overworked sewage treatment plant. There was much damage to ice makers, hot water heaters, clothing in washing machines, and water coolers. The faith the people in town had with their government’s ability to run a water system suffered the most.

Hindsight is always a great way to voice your opinion and it is my opinion that the big rust and iron situation of 1983 was caused by five problems. First, in spite of test wells drilled, the south well had a high level of iron in it. The iron was pumped into the system from the well, where it went to every user on the system. Second, part of the rust problem was caused by the vibration to old cast iron pipe installed in 1911 from the construction and installation of the new water mains. This vibration broke loose rust in the mains. Third, when the south well came on line it changed a 70 year direction of the flow of water in the water mains. This broke off tuberculation and iron particles that went everywhere in the system. Fourth, the town employees in attempting to flush the system did not isolate the areas they were trying to flush causing the increase water flow from flushing to break off more rust particles and send them into the sections of water mains already flushed, in addition somewhere in attempting to isolate areas the isolation valves were left in the wrong positions creating water flow against the direction of the previous 70 years. This reversed direction of course also broke off rust particles. Finally the fifth item was paperwork. An important part of flushing is to have detail drawings of the water main layout. Paperwork and maps, in Delmar, are one of the items that have always  been missing or so out of date they were useless.

At the end of 1984 the iron problem was reduced but still continued at a lesser level. The town continues its policy of refunding the money spent by residents in buying laundry Rust and Iron removal products for the outbreak of iron even today. Today all the suggestions made in 1983 to correct the iron problem such as, a new water treatment plant and replacing and pigging mains, were made in the year 2000.

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