Residents of rural Delaware town approve public water system

Residents in Ellendale, Delaware, voted Saturday to have public water. For decades, many have contended with smelly, discolored water from wells. (Courtesy of Jean Holloway)

Residents in Ellendale, Delaware, voted Saturday to have public water. For decades, many have contended with smelly, discolored water from wells. (Courtesy of Jean Holloway)

For years, Ellendale resident Betty Joe Sampson has endured smelly, discolored water from her private well in Delaware.

When she uses the water to wash her clothes, streaks of rust stripe her whites — and the laundry is often damaged by the bleach she uses to clean it. So Sampson usually travels to a laundromat.

She also adds bleach to the water when she washed dishes to prevent them from turning yellow.

And she spends about $30 a month on bottled water because the well water is not safe to drink in the town, which is not connected to a public water system.

The discolored well water has high levels of nitrates and iron, and some of the shallow wells may have bacterial contamination, Sussex County officials have said.

Having to deal with risky well water has been yet another hardship for Sampson. The former  day care center owner now has lung disease and, along with her husband, is on disability.

But, after years of trying to get a public water system in Ellendale, residents approved a referendum Saturday by a vote of 81-21.

“I feel elated — I’m so happy,” Sampson said Monday. “It’s a blessing.”

A long road

Years of community advocacy work led the county to propose purchasing water from Artesian Water and then supplying residents, who would be charged about $430 a year — or $6 per 1,000 gallons consumed.

But the idea still faced roadblocks because state code requires a referendum on the matter. In November, a referendum failed 120-107. Those against public water said they didn’t want another bill to pay.

In response, the county proposed supplying a smaller area that affects fewer residents. That plan won approval.

Jean Holloway of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, a regional nonprofit that has supported Ellendale residents, said the community will now have a “reliable supply of decent, safe, and sanitary water, instead of not knowing what’s going to come out of the tap when they turn it on.”

Those who have been buying bottled water will be saving some money, she said.

It will take about 30 months to get the water system in place.

As soon as the water supply system is up and running, Sampson said she will buy a washing machine.

“This is 2018, and I just want everyone in this area to be blessed with a water system,” she said. “So they can put their children in the bathtub and they can play in bubbles. They can hang their clothes on the washing line.”

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