If you've seen the drilling equipment that's gone up along South Park Drive in Collingswood this summer, you might have wondered whether the borough has uncovered Texas tea on its waterfront property.
But hold those thoughts of selling off your historic brownstone for a cement pond in Beverly Hills: what you're seeing is actually the beginnings of a new test well for the local water supply.
According to Water Superintendent Tom McCarthy, the exploratory project will see whether the well could yield water in sufficient quantity and of sufficient quality to supplement the existing borough water supply.
Workers are drilling down to a depth of about 280 feet, McCarthy said, and will run a 24-7 pump test for the next three months.
Depending on the outcome, favorable results could mean a big financial savings for taxpayers.
Number Five is Number One
Collingswood currently draws its water from seven wells—five at its Hillcrest Ave. plant and two others at its plant on Comly Ave.—“and [we] pretty much only use three [of them],” McCarthy said.
The best of these is the Number Five well, which is situated about 1,500 feet away from the location of the test aquifer near Cooper River.
“Number Five pumps probably 75 to 80 percent of our water for the whole town,” McCarthy said. “It’s our workhorse, and runs around the clock.
“We’re hoping to get the quality we get out of five out of Number 12.”
(Why is the eighth well in town numbered 12? The numbering system is assigned by the state, McCarthy said.)
“Most of the wells in town are high in iron, and we’re getting to the point where we’re going to have to add new treatment, and we’re trying to avoid that,” he said.
The water wells in Collingswood have been running since the 1920s, when the borough treatment plant was first built, McCarthy said. Over time, increasing iron levels in the aquifer have required additional treatment processes.
“We start with aeration, sedimentation, chlorination pre- and post-,” McCarthy said. “Once you get to higher levels [of iron], that no longer works; you have to add a clarifier."
Changing the treatment process to add a clarifier would require a total restructuring of the plant, McCarthy said—“you’re talking into the millions [of dollars]”—to push out a product that wouldn't necessarily taste any better.
“The less treatment, the better quality water you have,” McCarthy said. “On the whole, our water is excellent. I live in town, and my kids have drank it, and I’ve drank it for 50 years and I’ve been in the industry for 30.”
McCarthy said that the water in the borough is of “excellent quality” because it is drawn from a confined aquifer that’s in the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy (PRM) system.
The PRM has a clay layer above and below the aquifer, which makes it “tougher for anything to infiltrate into it,” McCarthy said.
“It’s by far the best quality water of all the aquifers in the state because of the clay layer on top,” he said.
But with the quality and volume of water that the PRM produces, McCarthy said, the various towns that relied upon it were ordered to reduce their draw-down 20 percent about 20 years ago because it was being depleted too rapidly.
Those municipalities then had to sign exclusive agreements to purchase their water from the New Jersey American Water Company (at higher rates, he said). Collingswood slipped by, McCarthy said, because it wasn’t pumping as much water as its neighbors.
Other popular questions about the water supply in town, according to McCarthy, include whether the borough adds fluoride to its treatment (no, although there is “a very limited, naturally occurring” trace amount in the water in Collingswood), and whether the tap water in town is better than bottled water (yes, because it “was in the ground six hours before” it’s dispensed, as opposed to sitting in plastic for an unknown amount of time).
If there’s a taste issue with the tap water in your home, McCarthy said, check your pipes, or run it through a carbon filter before you drink. But whatever filter you use, be sure to change it regularly or you could end up “spiking the water with bacteria,” he said.
“It’s nice having a utility in town,” he said, because residents “can call right to the plant and call or speak to me.”