Rehoboth residents to vote on well loan

May 10, 2006

Rehoboth Beach residents will soon vote on taking out a loan to rebuild city wells and the equipment that treats area drinking water, a project that would total more than $6 million.

City officials seek to hold a referendum within the next two months and start construction in the fall.

"We're improving the quality of water that will be provided to the customers," Robert Palmer, senior associate with the Salisbury, Md.-based engineering firm Davis, Bowen & Friedel, said of the project.

The plan would replace the water treatment facility built in the 1950s at the Lynch well site, located east of Route 1 near Rehoboth Avenue Extended and just north of the Outback Steakhouse. The new equipment would detect contaminants in water while adding fluoride, a naturally occuring compound that prevents cavities and tooth decay by stopping the breakdown of enamel that acids and sugars in food cause.

Rehoboth's water service includes more than 2,370 connections in city limits, plus the town of Dewey Beach and another 2,000 in the surrounding area, according to budget data on water rates. The project would also replace one of three wells near that site with two wells, installing them behind the Rehoboth Outlets and north of Glade Road. Combined, they would pump about 1,200 gallons per minute, compared to the 1,000 that the current well can pump.

The city has two other well sites off Old Landing Road and one off Road 275. The project would retrofit their individual treatment facilties to add fluoride to their water.


In 1998, Delaware lawmakers mandated towns and cities to add fluoride to their water systems. Rehoboth officials had already planned to replace the city's treatment facility, though, and waited on taking that step. So did other cities throughout the state, said Ed Hallock, a program administrator in the state Division of Public Health's office of drinking water.

"We're working our way down the list," Hallock said, noting that all Delaware cities and towns will likely have added fluoride to their water by the end of the year.

It's an important step in Kent and Sussex counties especially, because many communities in those regions lack adequate dental services, Hallock said. The office of drinking water has drafted contracts with every municipality except for Slaughter Beach and Magnolia. The rest, including Rehoboth, are in the works.


City officials were ready to accept bids on the well and treatment facility project when lindane turned up in water at the Lynch well site in 2002.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the man-made white crystal-like chemical, used until the 1980s as a pesticide and delousing treatment, that can cause liver and kidney damage, along with other health problems.

The amounts measured below the EPA's maximum limits, but city officials altered plans and added a carbon filtration system to the proposed treatment facility at the Lynch site that would detect such contaminants.

Kept in a tray in the cylindrical steel tank that water flows through, granular carbon -- looking like pulverized charcoal briquettes -- would let materials in drinking water attach to it. That would provide a way to identify the contaminants that may exist in small amounts - amounts that are difficult to detect because they do not reach federal maximum limits.

City and state officials will begin seeking the lindane's source and concentration levels in the area. High amounts would call for stricter water treatment and could change the new facility's design and operations.

"It's pretty important to find out," Palmer said.

Project plans

The project would boost the city's ability to pump and treat more water, going from 1,500 gallons per minute to 2,800.

That would come partly from the improved treatment facility that could better keep up with water flow, partly from the higher capacity wells at the Lynch site and partly from placing them farther away from the other existing two wells, Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper said. That would allow a better well rotation without drawing too heavily from any one aquifer.

The Lynch site, especially, provides a good recharge area with soil that easily lets rainwater infiltrate the ground.

"It's a good project all around," Cooper said. "We need to get it done."

City officials have been budgeting for the project.

About $1.5 million would come from the city's capitalization fees, first enacted in the 1980s as a way to garner money from development and pay for its impact on city water. Palmer does not expect water rates to rise to cover the project's costs, he said.

In the late '90s, DelDOT officials agreed to pay $900,000 toward the well replacement project after a Route 1 lane widening effort encroached on the city right-of-way at the Lynch site. That money has since grown to more than $1 million with interest accumulation.

The rest of the funds would come from loans, mostly through a state revolving fund. City officials need public approval of any loan exceeding the $2 million borrowing limit set by Rehoboth's charter and the referendum will seek that permission.

All of the treatment facilities would continue the work that they now perform on the groundwater pumped into wells from aquifers, the underground water stored in layers of earth.

That includes stabilization, a process that adjusts the acid level of water by removing carbon dioxide and adding sodium hydroxide to prevent lead and copper in pipes from attaching to the water flowing through. That also includes a process to disinfect water by adding chlorine to kill pathogens, baceteria and micro-organisms that can cause sickness.

E-mail Hilary Corrigan at