South Bethany canals to improve with tides

The canals of South Bethany are a far cry from the way they used to be and from the conditions local officials aim for them to be, but thanks to a group of engineers and council members, that’s all about to change. A group of engineers, including George Junkin, Bob Apollo and Lloyd Hughes, a former South Bethany councilman, have been heading the town’s tidal pump project — the first of its kind anywhere — which may contain the cure the town is looking for.

“The canals here could be a lot better,” noted South Bethany Councilman Jay Headman, who leads a Water Quality Improvement Committee. “This project could make the canals throughout South Bethany swimmable and fishable, and that’s what we want.” He and Mayor Gary Jayne have worked closely with the engineers on the project.

Residential development and stormwater runoff have contributed to the deterioration of the canals’ water quality. The plan that the tidal pump committee has developed would flush out the dead-end, polluted, inland canals through a network of underground pipes, using an unlimited energy source — the changing tides.

“In principle,” said Hughes, who began research on a concept to flush the canals back in 2002, “it takes close to 270 days to flush our canals through the Ocean City Inlet. Once we get this project working, we can do in five days. That’s the real key behind it all.”

In 2005, environmental and natural resource management consultants Entrix Inc. were brought in to study the effectiveness of the project’s flushing capability through a residence-time analysis. Experts from the Delaware Geological Survey at the University of Delaware also studied different analyses for the proposed project. Findings were sent on to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

“When you start looking at what the project can do,” said Hughes, “it’s truly amazing. We can transfer healthy water into the canals, and eliminate the algae and pollutants that accumulate in the first hour of rainfall. This ultimately improves conditions in the canals and the Little Assawoman Bay.”

A study concluded that, for each rainfall of about 0.5 inches during 1998 and 1999, 360,000 gallons of stormwater were dumped into the Anchorage Canal, located at the corner of Anchorage Drive and Route 1. The stormwater contained 6 pounds of nitrogen, roughly one-half pound of phosphorus and 90 pounds of chemical oxygen demand (COD) material, all of which are harmful to humans and aquatic life in those concentrations. Stormwater around the canals, off Route 1 and all the way from Sea Colony is currently flowing into the basin in the Anchorage Canal.

Two years ago, South Bethany commissioned Oceaneering International Inc. and KCI Technologies Inc. to evaluate the proposed design that would run a 36-inch trunk line down the median of Route 1, with eight canal feeder pipes, measuring 18 inches in diameter, and two pipes running 1,600 feet into the ocean outfall at N. 2nd and S. 3rd streets. The offset between the rising and lowering of the tides would systematically flush the polluted water from the canals and replace them with clean seawater from the Atlantic Ocean.

According to confirmed research, the tide difference between the canals and the ocean would drive thousands of gallons through the pumps per minute. The flushing and circulation would have no impact on the recently replenished shoreline and wouldn’t require a bridge, as many environmental inlets use for flushing.

Oceaneering International and KCI Technologies found the tidal pump practical and feasible, recommending that the pipes be made of high-density polyethylene (HPDE) to prevent corrosion.

“The tidal pump is truly innovative and revolutionary from both an environmental and a green power prospective,” said KCI Vice President Timothy Wolfe. “Systems like this stand to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and will power humanity into the future.”

“They had knowledge of this stuff,” said Headman. “They indicated that this would work – flush and do what it would do. We felt that we needed a company who dealt with outfalls and ocean research to do a budgetary study for us, and again to confirm this project.”

While several organizations have confirmed the effectiveness of the project, it’s the financial aspect that has put any new action on the back burner for the town. Estimated costs were roughed-out to be around $250,000 for design, $5.2 to $6.7 million for construction and $18,000 per year for maintenance.

“It seems like, after looking at the project,” said Hughes, “the cost might be higher than we would like, and that’s where DNREC is hesitant to jump on board. Other than that, though, we’ve answered any questions they’ve brought to us. It’s an ongoing thing, and we’re trying to take it one step at a time.”

Al Rae, president of South Bethany Property Owners Association (SBPOA), is leading a group of seven volunteers, including Hughes, to monitor designated spots in the canals, collecting accurate rain data to track stormwater influence, as well as salinity, nitrogen and phosphorus levels, water depth and dissolved oxygen for “fishable” qualities, and bacteria levels for “swimmable” conditions.

Although there is little development on the project of late, pending official action from the Delaware Department of Transportation, (DelDOT) and DNREC, the project has not gone unnoticed. KCI Technologies Inc., based in Hunt Valley, Md., was awarded American Academy of Environmental Engineer’s (AAEE) grand prize recently for their research on the South Bethany Tidal Pump project.

“What’s difficult is that we haven’t finalized the project yet,” Hughes said, “and we’re not sure exactly how we want to run it. There are a couple of avenues we can take, and we really need to get DNREC on board with us. We’re still probably two to three months away.”

Both state Sen. George Bunding and state Rep. Gerald Hocker have expressed their support in past committee presentations, but the financial burden of the project definitely has the upper hand right now.

“It seems like, for the most part, everyone’s on board for the idea,” Hughes said, “and we’re moving in right direction. We really need to look for money, and that’s not easy when the market is way it is today.

“South Bethany has experienced the canal dredging and rebuilding the town hall and police department, and that’s money out of their own pockets. As far as federal money goes, they just shelled out a lot for the replenishment. We’re in a bind, right now, to a degree.”

Though there is still plenty to accomplish, Headman said he is thrilled at the progress the committee is making.

“It’s been incredible working with these engineers,” he said. “Our belief is the only way to improve the quality of the canals is to flush them with clean water, and that clean water is right around the block from us – the ocean.”

For now, he hopes to inform the public of the importance of flushing the canals, returning them to a healthier state seen more than 50 years ago.

“The main thing we need to do now,” he said, “is educate the homeowners. There are things they can do, like eliminating shower runoff from flowing into the canals, and not washing boats directly in the canals, that are small things, but make a difference in our water.”

For instance, impervious surfaces that don’t help to filter stormwater and runoff are more harmful to the canal’s waters than those that do. Even picking up after dogs can reduce the bacteria that finds its way into the canals.

Stay tuned to Coastal Point for continuing coverage of the tidal pump project, or visit the South Bethany Town Hall for additional information.