Public hearing is next step for fixing Selbyville water woes

Selbyville has long suffered issues with contamination of its groundwater by a gasoline additive, MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether), and before the next Selbyville Town Council meeting, on Monday, Nov. 4, the Town will host a 7 p.m. public hearing to discuss a $2.5 million water treatment upgrade designed to deal with the problem.

“We have to upgrade our filtration system to guard against any intrusion by the MTBEs. It’s just something we have to do,” said Town Administrator Bob Dickerson. “We’re just fortunate we have this funding opportunity to get it done.”

If the proposed project is completed, the $2,526,300 loan from Delaware Drinking Water Revolving Fund would actually function as a grant, with 0 percent interest and 100 percent principal forgiveness. But because it is still considered a loan, the town code requires a public hearing and a referendum (likely to be held in December).

“We’re trying to do it a quick as we can,” Dickerson said. “We already started some preliminary engineering and design.”

With a to-do list that includes voting, paperwork, bids, design and installation, the MTBE filtration system could be ready in nine or 10 months.

The Revolving Fund money would come at the end of another loan, which is currently funding the digging of two new wells for the town water system.

In November of 2009, one of Selbyville’s three existing wells was taken offline when it showed high levels of MTBE, at 12.9 parts per billion. A second well began showing signs of increased MTBE, and it seemed only a matter of time until last well would also become affected.

The State of Delaware has established a maximum MTBE level of 10 ppb, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set no standard for the chemical, which may cause health problems.

Selbyville only uses one well at a time but they currently have two to choose from, though both are susceptible to seepage of MTBE into their water supply.

“We have one well that is non-detect and another that is way below containment level,” noted Dickerson.

Despite good results from early testing, MTBE was also recently detected in one of Selbyville’s two new wells.

“We can’t use that well until we have the new filter system in,” Dickerson said. “If we had had any indication beforehand, would have filtered from the get-go.”

He said he hopes the other new well is fully operational by Nov. 4, after some last-minute electronics work.

With MTBE filtration, Selbyville could use all of the wells freely. And, because even the State cannot tell what caused the MTBE infiltration, Dickerson said Selbyville’s best option is to filter the existing water.

“Our engineers and our people here are constantly monitoring and testing and refining the water supply system,” he said, noting that the work includes lots of water flushing “to keep the water as fresh as possible. We’re looking forward to this well having less iron and less organics. That could help our well water quality.”