Treated water offered to Wadmalaw residents at Johns Island library

After not using it for a day, well water running into the tub leaves a collection of particles in Monica Smith's Wadamalaw home. Wade Spees/Staff Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wadmalaw Island residents concerned about their well water will be able to fill jugs with free treated drinking water at the Johns Island Regional Library, Charleston County officials said Thursday.

The water dispenser at the library on Maybank Highway near Main and Bohicket roads will be available in about three weeks, the officials said.

“Anything is better than what we have now,” said Rev. William Jones of St. James Bethel AME Church on Wadmalaw.

Wadmalaw’s 2,000 residents rely on well water. Dozens of them have complained that their water seems unsafe to drink because of the way it looks and/or smells.

Jones told the County Council Public Works Committee on Thursday that most of the wells on the island are substandard. Water seeps into them because they do not have a protective casing and that prompts concerns about contamination-related illness, he said.

The Public Works Committee voted in favor of making water available at the library for Wadmalaw residents. The proposal goes to the full Council on Tuesday.

County staff is considering other ways to provide drinking water for Wadmalaw residents, including a 1,000-gallon portable tank. The staff is exploring establishing a water district as a means to finance large-scale water supply improvements, officials said.

“I think we are looking at the quality of life,” said Councilwoman Anna Johnson, whose district includes Wadmalaw.

The county should gather demographic information about Wadmalaw, including income levels and the condition of wells, she said.

Councilman Henry Darby suggested that Wadmalaw residents form their own town if the county is not responsive to their needs.

Islanders have complained that well water is not good for washing clothes because it turns white fabrics yellow. Others have said that the water damages bathroom fixtures.

On Monday, nearly 200 residents picked up bottles from the state health department to provide samples of their well water for testing. Results will be sent to Council. Health officials on Thursday told Council members that the underground aquifer on Wadmalaw does not appear to have a problem with bacterial contamination.

Many Wadmalaw residents have told Council that they buy bottled drinking water because they are concerned their well water is unsafe to drink.

The committee meeting drew a large overflow crowd. Afterwards, Jones said he didn’t think a drinking water source on Johns Island made sense for Wadmalaw residents

“Either do something for us or we’ll get our own government,” he said.

The Water Wellness Project of Kiawah and Seabrook islands is raising funds to help Wadmalaw residents upgrade their wells. The project has estimated it can upgrade wells and septic tanks for about $800,000.

Wadmalaw islanders recently appealed to County Council for help getting a water line to the island. In response, the county sent a letter to St. Johns Water Co. suggesting a meeting of public heath officials, environmental regulators and concerned islanders.

The county estimated it would cost about $30 million for a water line to Wadmalaw.

St. Johns Water, the closest provider, has not yet considered the issue.

Some island residents oppose a water line because they fear it will lead to more development.