I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man. 
                               — Henry David Thoreau

    {mosimage}Slaking your thirst in Cumberland County can be an expensive proposition when you consider well drilling costs that run into the thousands of dollars, a Cumberland County well permit that sets you back $120, and a new state law that went into effect July 1 requiring an inspection for 20 contaminants and which is expected to bump up the cost by several hundred dollars
    Such costs, as well as recently publicized problems concerning contaminated water here in Cumberland, have led many residents to call for a countywide water system — something found in neighboring counties Robeson, Hoke, Bladen and Harnett. However, if these folks are worried about the rising costs of digging a well, they “ain’t seen nothing yet “— cost estimates for a countywide water/sewer system run in excess of $120 million. And that’s based on a 1990 update of a 1969 study.
    “Any solution to the need for clean water throughout the county is going to be expensive,” said Cumberland County Manager James Martin, “and will require the support of citizens.”
    In 1994, voters defeated a bond referendum designed to fund a plan to provide countywide water and sewer. Of course, a bond referendum means higher taxes — something that doesn’t sit well with Andy Sellers, who lives on Chicken Foot Road.
“I’ve already got a well and a septic tank and my water tastes better than anything that would come out of a county system,” said Sellers as he pumped gas into his Chevy pick-up at a Kangaroo convenience store on the outskirts of Hope Mills. “My taxes are high enough without one for water I don’t need.”
But then there are folks like Janice Stolt, who lives outside Stedman and is scared not of the monetary costs of well water, but the health costs.
    “You just don’t know what you’re drinking anymore,” said Stolt. “I’ve got grandchildren that drink well water and I worry about what kind of chemicals are going into their bodies.”
    Cumberland County has a long history of water and well contamination issues. For example, in September 2006, water fountains and sinks at J.W. Seabrook Elementary School were turned off after coliform bacteria was found in the school’s well water. The cafeteria was forced to hand out bag lunches and the whole problem ended up costing $350,000 when the Fayetteville Public Works Commission extended a public water line  to the school.
    The contamination conundrum was once again placed on the front burner following a February meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners in which two county residents, Debra Stewart and James Creager, expressed concerns about well water contaminated with chemicals such as benzene, arsenic and nitrates.
    Contaminated wells have been verified in recent months on Rim Road and Chicken Foot Road.
    Dr. Jeannette Council, vice chairman of the board of commissioners, said she knew there was a problem with contaminated wells, but the Feb. 19 meeting really drove the point home.
    “We have a tremendous challenge in finding what we can do to ensure that our citizens have potable water,” said Council. “I don’t think we realized how many contaminated wells there are in the county.”
    There are more than 100,000 wells in Cumberland County, with approximately 400 new well permits issued each year.
Martin said he has no idea how many contaiminated wells there are in the county; however, he emphasized there are procedures property owners need to follow to ensure they have potable water.
    “Property owners of new wells should get the required permits, construct the wells to current standards, and have the water sampled,” said Martin. “Existing well owners should be sure the wells are properly constructed to include grout and appropriate well-head protection and that proper setbacks from potential pollutants are maintained. Bacteriological sampling and inorganic chemical sampling are suggested. Water testing can be done by a private lab or by applying for and paying a user’s fee at the county health department’s location at the courthouse.”
    In addition to going through all the official channels to ensure well water is safe to drink, county officials formed a task force on Feb. 27 to identify sites in the county where groundwater has been contaminated, as well as to examine the feasibility of a countywide water/sewer service. The 10-member Safe Water Task Force is made up of public health officials, utilities employees and state officials. 
    The Safe Water Task Force will eventually make recommendations to the board of commissioners, though it will not suggest ways to pay for a water system.
    Surrounding counties, all much poorer than Cumberland County, have utilized state and federal grants to implement a countywide water system — something County Commissioner Diane Wheatley says the county must explore.
“We need to get grants to help pay for this,” said Wheatley. “It’s a big issue, perhaps the biggest one facing the county.”
The county has set aside approximately $3 million for the Safe Water Fund.
    County Commissioner Kenneth Edge affirmed that figure is not nearly enough and that the onus of funding a water/sewer system will probably fall into the laps of the county’s taxpayers, saying that Cumberland County’s population density makes it more difficult to get the grants surrounding counties have received.
    Still, he says a new water/sewer system is vital for the growth of the area.
    “This should have been done 20 years ago,” said Edge. “But you can’t look in the rear view ... you’ve got to look through the front windshield.
    “A bond referendum would be the quickest way to get it done,” said Edge. “But that would require an increase in taxes.”

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