Shady Grove II takes important first step to clean water

After years of smelly and sometimes gray tap water, residents of Selbyville’s Shady Grove II now have new hope, thanks to a new chlorinator installed on Aug. 29.

This time, they hope it’s the right one.

Situated in south Selbyville, Shady Grove II provides housing to senior citizens with low income. But they have suffered the perfect storm of water issues. Simply running a faucet would fill bathrooms and kitchens with a heavy sulfur stench, and residents refused to even cook with the water or feed pets with it.

Now, “It’s completely different. It’s not offensive. You run water for a couple minutes, and it’s gone,” said resident Linda Force. “I haven’t drank any of the water, though. I’m still playing with that. I want to give it time.”

Shady Grove II is located at the end of their water line from the Town of Selbyville, leading to a more stagnant water supply, and the chlorine disinfectant Selbyville adds is apparently being eaten up before reaching them.

Shady Grove II residents had some relief from years of bad water in August of 2012, when the Town of Selbyville installed a chlorinator, as a courtesy, just to see if that would fix the problem. The resulting success was short-lived, however, when the Office of Drinking Water determined that the chlorinator model was designed for swimming pools, not drinking water, and the device was removed in April.

By July 23, the Delaware Office of Drinking Water reported that no chlorine was detected in water samples taken from apartments in Building 3, which housed approximately 11 people in 10 units. The State recommends 0.30 parts-per-million of chlorine.

However, there were 25 percent more total trihalomethanes (TTHMs, a chlorine byproduct) — mostly chloroform — than typically allowed in tap water.

Just three months ago, in July, Force said, “It’s horrible — just to take a shower — it’s horrible. You have to buy gallons of water to wash your dishes, brush your teeth. You don’t want to touch it,” said Force. “You’re up to a point, I’m buying paper plates. I don’t want to wash dishes anymore.”

No one had installed a new chlorinator after the first one was removed, as the Town and the landlord both pointed the finger at each other as the responsible party.

“Our position is that the water entering the building is good. It meets all standards,” Town Administrator Bob Dickerson told the Coastal Point in July. “Where they tap into our system, we’re responsible to that point. What happens after that point, we have little control over.”

“Unless I drill a well, it’s their responsibility,” argued John Seymour, owner of Corporation Shelter Management (CSM) of Olney, Md., which owns Shady Groves I, II and III. “We pay a fee for the water and should get good water. I am not in a position to provide water.”

It appeared last week that Shady Grove II had paid for the new water system, as Dickerson sounded pleasantly surprised when asked to comment on the installation. He said Shady Grove had not been in contact with the Town about the chlorinator.

Property Manager Angie Barton is regularly found on-site with the community’s residents. She did not wish to comment on the installation or its cost, but said Sharp Water/Culligan had installed the system and would be maintaining it.

“I’m as happy as they are — I know they are happy,” Barton said about the residents. “I think I’m second on the list.”

“It’s going to be a little trial-and-error there for a while. I’m just ticked to death the damn thing’s in there,” said resident John Katzenberger. “The first time I washed my hair … my hair felt completely different.”

“The shower … it’s quite delightful. You have no idea,” Force said. “I’m just very thankful that it was taken care of.”

In late August, Barton said Sharp Water/Culligan had inspected the system to submit a chlorinator proposal. She said the employee found high iron levels, which would not be fixed by chlorinator alone. Sharp Water Culligan did not return calls for comment for this story.

“We ourselves were asking for a bid from Culligan, which did not want to provide one at first, because iron needs be taken care of at the water plant,” Barton had said. “Something’s got to be done.”

Materials such as iron, which had been seen at elevated levels in 2011, and hydrogen sulfide, which produces the rotten-egg smell, are considered an “aesthetic quality” or water, “not a health concern,” Hallock had said. Subject to Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels, those compounds are regulated by Delaware for water programs with more than 500 connections, including Selbyville. Hallock said Selbyville should be meeting all standards, but dealing with issues involving the secondaries is usually “complaint-driven” after seven consecutive days.

Hallock said the Office of Drinking Water would address TTHMs with Selbyville. The Town is currently digging and connecting two new wells to avoid its recurring issues MTBE [methyl tert-butyl ether], a gasoline additive, which has also been found in the water supply.

The new chlorinator is located in the sprinkler room at Building 3 of Shady Grove, just before the water reaches residents.

Because Selbyville’s flushing of hydrants used to help immensely with the problem, Barton said Shady Grove had also installed a blow-off valve, “so we could flush ourselves … and test the water ourselves.”

Katzenberger said he felt the valve should be larger to be more effective.

“I would say [the water] is good. I wouldn’t say it’s great. I did boil some corn with it,” Katzenberger said. “No way I’m drinking it.”

He said a water operator has visited the building to adjust the system and increase the chlorine.

“I think it needs a little adjustment. It’s a little cloudy and stinky,” Katzenberger said. “It’s changing our life around, there’s no question.”