March 3, 2011
Gov. Jack Markell announced two new efforts to better inform Delawareans about the quality of their drinking water, continuing a focus on drinking water safety he began last year.
First, the Governor proposed a requirement to test individual private wells for contaminants when wells are first drilled or when homes with private wells are sold. Second, Gov. Markell unveiled comprehensive information on the drinking water quality of every public water system in the state that has been added to the state’s new water quality website.
New information about private well water
The proposal to test private wells is a recommendation from Delaware Health and Social Services and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which concluded that more should done to protect and inform users of individual drinking water wells.
DNREC, which regulates well drilling, will propose a regulation requiring a water quality test when new private drinking water wells are drilled, or when a home with a private well is sold.
For the 82 percent of Delawareans who are served by public water systems – from cities and towns to water companies to smaller community systems – we ensure their water is tested regularly for an array of potential contaminants,” Gov. Markell said. “But 146,000 people in our state who rely on their own wells don’t have the same assurance. The private well testing requirement will help ensure that families, when buying a home, will have accurate information on the quality of their well water.”
DNREC will propose a phased approach with some of the requirements becoming effective before others. This requirement will eventually include sampling bacteria and certain chemicals, as well as volatile organic compounds, many of which can be carcinogens. Samples will be analyzed by private labs that are certified by DHSS. The proposed regulation would not affect non-potable private wells, such as those used for irrigation.
Secretary of Health and Social Services Rita Landgraf said the new requirement will put Delaware in step with surrounding states and counties when it comes to protecting the health of those with private wells. Some mortgage companies in Delaware already require private well tests, she said.
Although well water may taste, smell and look fine, the only way to know for sure that water is safe to drink is to test it. By discovering contaminants early, Delaware families on private wells may avoid immediate and possible long-term health risks,” Secretary Landgraf said. “We should give private well owners the same protection that Delawareans drinking public water have.”
Under the proposal, tests that find contaminants would be provided to the homeowner, the prospective purchaser and DNREC, which will use the results to track the overall condition of the state’s water supplies.
“Protecting and improving water quality is among the most important responsibilities of the state,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “This is both a consumer and environmental protection initiative. Whether served by a public system, a public well or private well, Delawareans have a right to know about the quality of their drinking water. The testing will provide DNREC and DHSS with groundwater data that will help our agencies prioritize areas for further investigation and remediation.”
The proposed testing requirements drew support from the Delaware Cancer Consortium.
“It is critical that individual Delawareans make informed decisions when purchasing or building a home. It is also important that we better understand and address potential high-risk areas across the state,’ said Consortium chair Bill Bowser. “I look forward to continuing the work of the Delaware Cancer Consortium with additional data to guide us.”
“Better understanding our exposure to harmful chemicals is the first step in reducing our risk, “ said Meg Maley, chair of the Consortium’s Environment Committee. “I applaud Governor Markell for his continued commitment to making our environment safer and assuring that we have the information we need to lead healthier lives.”
After discussions with stakeholders, DNREC plans to present the specific proposed regulatory changes in workshops in the spring, and then formally accept comments on the change through a public hearing process.
Delaware Drinking Water Watch
Gov. Markell also unveiled new public access to comprehensive information and test results for every public water system in the state.
In September, a new website was launched by DHSS and DNREC - waterquality.delaware.gov – as a compilation of state resources about water, along with a new easy-to-use map with instant access to the annual water quality report for each public water system.
Drinking Water Watch, now listed on the water quality site, dramatically expands the information available about these systems, including detailed testing results, dates of site visits by inspectors, and history of any violations, all updated as tests occur and are reported to DHSS’s Division of Public Health.
“This is very technical information, but for those who really want to know what is in their water, it will all be on view from now on,” Gov. Markell said.\
As an example, Gov. Markell, speaking at the Division of Public Health lab in Smyrna, said the Water Watch site showed the latest test for chemicals in the Town of Smyrna water system was conducted on January 27, 2011, found chlorine, fluoride and nitrates all within normal levels and that the water had a pH of 7.2.
The type of information is available for almost 500 public sources of water in Delaware – not only municipalities, community systems and water companies that supply water to homes and businesses, but also restaurants, convenience stores, schools, daycares and other businesses that are served by an individual well and make water available to significant numbers of customers, employees, visitors or children.
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