MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Eric Friend does not drink the tap water at home. He doesn’t even like to shower in it, he said, because of the way it feels and because of the occasional smell of sulfur.
He’s lived in the Green Creek section of Middle Township for a few years, living on a property that relies on well water. The well is shallow — he said it’s about 10 feet deep — and relies on groundwater he fears could also include chemical contaminants.
But his home, like many along the western edge of the sprawling township, was too far from existing infrastructure to tie in. That’s why he’s looking forward to a project that is slated to bring water across the municipal line from Lower Township to homes around the Del Haven section of Middle Township.
“I’m looking forward to the project to bring in clean water,” he said.
The proposal recently took a step forward. Township officials announced that applications for permits for the unusual cross-border connection have been submitted to the required state departments.
Officials expect to go out to bid on the work in early 2021, and have water flowing to homes by the spring of 2022.
Crews could break ground within a few months. It will mean a municipal connection for more than 1,000 households.
New Jersey American Water is the utility that provides the water supply to most of Middle Township, which does not have its own water utility. Other areas in the township rely on well water. But because of Del Haven’s proximity to the Delaware Bay, salt-water intrusion has increasingly become a problem. At public meetings where the plan was discussed, Mayor Tim Donohue has said property owners who currently do not have a problem with their wells likely will within a few years.
While the lack of reliable drinking water presented a serious problem for the residents in and around Del Haven, addressing it proved difficult. The small, primarily residential community was too far from the existing water pipes in the township and Township Committee was reluctant to finally launch its own water utility.
“Bringing the water from Whitesboro through 13 Curves into Del Haven was just too costly,” Donohue said, using a local name for the most direct route connecting the Whitesboro section of town to Burleigh Road leading to Route 47 in the Green Creek section.
It’s a straight shot of two miles from Whitesboro to Route 47, also known as Delsea Drive, and another mile along Bayshore Road to the center of Del Haven, but the circuitous route along the well-named 13 Curves would be longer.
Far closer is the Villas section of Lower Township, on the other side of Fishing Creek. There, too, shallow residential wells meant problems for residents. Donohue read about a project by the Lower Township Municipal Utilities Authority to bring water to the Villas, far closer to Del Haven than other options.
“That got us thinking,” Donohue said.
Last year, the township approved an agreement with the Lower Township authority, and passed an ordinance mandating properties connect to the new service. That provision met with some skepticism, but did not appear to be a deal-breaker. Officials said at the time that the financing for the project would not work if owners were not required to connect.
The total cost of the project will be about $10 million, including extending the water main up Bayshore Road from the Villas and connecting to the Wildwood water utility to ensure there will be enough water.
The project will also place fire hydrants in the project area, which have not existed in Del Haven before. For Friend, that is a big selling point. He believes the project will improve fire safety and improve property values.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Del Haven resident John Barker pulled up to the guardrail at the end of Millman Boulevard, a spot known as Norbury’s Landing, to take in the view of the Delaware Bay. He lives nearby and described the spot as a convenient local attraction.
Barker recently lived near Pittsburgh, where the house relied on well water, so he said he knew what to expect from well water. But he, too, expressed eagerness to see the project completed, even though it will mean paying for water by the gallon.
Homeowners will still be able to use their well water to wash cars or water lawns, but if Barker and Friend are typical, most will not miss the taste of Del Haven well water or the whiff of sulfur.
At a 2019 Township Committee meeting, officials estimated most property owners would pay about $615 a year in water bills under the deal with Lower Township’s MUA. There is a one-time fee of $1,600 to tie into the system, which is in the ballpark of the cost to connect when Barker’s Pennsylvania community installed municipal water there, he said.
He had not heard much about the project, but said he thought it was a good idea.
“With well water, there’s always a little insecurity,” he said.
“Over 1,000 homes in the Del Haven/Route 47 area will be guaranteed to have clean, fresh, safe drinking water for the foreseeable future. This will not only improve the quality of life, but increase the property values in Del Haven as well,” Donohue stated in a video posted on Facebook.
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