In addressing the issue of polluted wells on the outskirts of Clover, the permanent solution of installing new water supply lines appears to be the best answer.
While levels of pollution vary in well water in the Henry’s Knob area, a 185-acre site outside Clover used for mining in the early 1900s, some residents complain of water that can be murky, almost black, and which has a foul taste. Through water testing between 2007 and 2010, the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined that there was good reason for concern.
Water from several of the wells was found to contain far more than the EPA’s acceptable levels for manganese and cobalt, two elements that infiltrated the ground water as a result of the mining operation. The EPA maximum for manganese is 2.1 milligrams per liter of water, but some of the wells tested as high as 10.9 milligrams.
The EPA’s maximum acceptable level of cobalt is .03 milligrams per liter. Some wells tested as high as .211 milligrams.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cobalt and manganese are naturally occurring and essential in small doses for human health. But long exposure to high levels of both elements can damage the nervous system, and excessive cobalt exposure can cause dermatitis and lung and heart problems.
After the mining operation closed in 1970, the property changed hands several times before being bought by a private owner in 1991. ABB, a company specializing in power and automation technologies, never mined the area but was judged to be responsible for the groundwater pollution because it failed to properly maintain the site.
An open pit was allowed to fill with rainwater, creating a 7-acre acidic pond. Water from the pond eventually leached the metals into the groundwater.
EPA officials held a recent public meeting to discuss the hazards and the possible solutions. At $5.57 million, extending water lines from Clover would be the second-most expensive fix, slightly less costly than creating a community groundwater extraction and treatment system expressly to serve the community.
Cheaper solutions would be treating the water in individual wells, costing $2.25 million, or providing bottled water for residents, costing $1.3 million.
EPA officials recommend installing water lines from Clover, which could be completed in about two years. ABB would fund the installation, and either ABB or EPA would cover residents’ connection fees.
That would provide a steady source of water from Clover, which buys its water from Gastonia, N.C. While that would be a big project, it would create a supply system that could be expanded in the future if needs arise.
The other options might be adequate as long as the population doesn’t change. But they seem piecemeal and don’t offer the flexibility of a fixed water service if the area does grow.
Some residents fear that Clover would use water service as a lever to force them to be annexed into the town. But, as EPA officials noted, residents don’t have to buy water from Clover, even if the lines are installed.
Some well owners clearly would like an option that offers them a reliable supply of clean, safe water. Others apparently are satisfied with the quality of the water from their wells.
Long term, though, new water lines seem like the best solution, especially if ABB is footing most of the bill. While some residents fear the water lines already are a done deal, the EPA insists that isn’t the case, and the agency is inviting public input between now and July 5.