Ellendale residents have found high levels of nitrates and iron in their drinking water for more than a decade.
But a deal between the town and Sussex County could help resolve those concerns and give residents cleaner water.
Ellendale will pay Sussex County $400 per year for water that the county will purchase from Artesian, rather than relying on individual wells in town.
It’s a plan that could help many residents — like Carolyn Davis. Davis hasn’t been able to drink her tap water for eight months.
“It has a smell of oil. And we can’t drink it cos it makes you sick," Davis said.
Davis said she hopes once a water district is established with the county, she can stop relying on bottled water. She and her fiancé go through a case of 24 in two days, she said.
"Sometimes I really can't afford it because I'm not on a fixed income. We buy it when it's on sale," Davis said.
The Ellendale Community Improvement Association met with state environmental officials and members from the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project last week to learn about a private well program and how to care for their own wells.
"Water can be clear, smell fine, taste good, and still have contamination issues," said Janice Tatum, a coordinator for the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project based in North Carolina. "Vice versa — water can be kind of dark...and actually not pose a threat to your health."
Former Ellendale mayor Dolores Price said when Ellendale was put on a sewer district in 2005, residents were told water would follow, but that did not happen. The town has about 360 residents, and Price said though the water problem does not affect everyone, it extends to some residents and communities on the outskirts of Ellendale.
"We have pockets where water is very, very bad," Price said.
Price said her water is drinkable. However, the three times she has had it tested, she was notified of non-dangerous levels of nitrates and chlorine in her water
The agreement with the county will bring the town better water than local wells provide, Price said, but it will take two years for it to get up and running.
"People need to know how to take care of their wells now," Price said.