When Salt Water Takes Over Drinking Water: Hilton Head Group Fin - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

When Salt Water Takes Over Drinking Water: Hilton Head Group Finds Out What's Next

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -

Utility specialists say salt water intrusion into Hilton Head Island residents' drinking water supply happens at a rate of about 400 feet per year. 

To put that rate into perspective, Russell Hildebrand of the Broad Creek Public Service District of Hilton Head projects that wells could be completely salted within 25 years. 

In an open forum hosted by the Hilton Head Island League of Women Voters, seven panelists addressed water quality concerns.

Facing an audience were Ed Saxon of Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA), Kelly Ferda of the South Island Public Service District, Russell Hildebrand of the Broad Creek Public Service District, Richard Cyr of the North Island Public Service District, Rob McFee of Beaufort County Division for Engineering and Infrastructure, Steve Riley, Town Manager of Hilton Head Island, and James Ayers, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Public Engineering and Public Works for Bluffton.

Richard Cyr says six out of his district's 11 aquifers are already lost to salt. He predicts another three will be gone within three years. 

Panelists agree that the best plan of action for now is conservation.

"We have a lot of water around us, it's just difficult to treat," Ed Saxon said. 

Hildebrand says irrigation is one of the first things that needs to be cut back. He says about 60% of the water supply of the Broad Creek area, which is the mid-island areas like Shelter Cove, is used in the midnight to 6 a.m. window. This includes irrigation at some golf courses. 

To discourage this, excessive use rates are applied to their customers' water bills. 

For now, the plan is to move to pump water from BJWSA when the wells are taken over with salt.

Panelists say there is an effort to work together across the state line with Georgia, to discuss the use of the Savannah River basin further.

To date, studies have been conducted to that end. However, panelists can list no action to follow the studies they say BJWSA bill payers fund, so far. 

 

--Background--

When you live on an island, surrounded by water, there's no getting away from the salt. Hilton Head Island residents admit to this, and say it's only a matter of time before their drinking water is overcome with it.

"We're surrounded by salt water so it's going to happen," Bill Bass says.

When that salty water creeps into Hilton Head homes through sink and shower faucets, Bass says it's alarming. It's inconvenient, too, that the water Bass wades in could become similar to that of which he drinks.

He said he first noticed a distinct smell in his laundry, and his wife noted the shower water smelled odd.

"It was very inconvenient, we had to go to the store to buy gallons of it," he says.

He and his wife use a filter for drinking, but he fears the salt could become too much.

State Representative Weston Newton says he's heard the complaints, and realizes it's a problem that will need to be fixed sooner or later.

He explains it this way, "It's an underground tank that's holding water, and the overuse of that creates the pressure, that salt water intrudes into that aquifer."

"As fresh water is being pumped up and treated to be consumed, too much pressure does not allow them to replenish themselves," Newton says.

With more and more people using the source of water in the aquifer, or well system, the pressure will create problems.

Newton admits it's no new problem, but as time passes, the community begins to wonder how much time is left before Hilton Head has to look to another supply for the precious resource.

Now, the Hilton Head chapter of the League of Women Voters is looking for clarity in the situation. They're holding a forum on Wednesday, November 13.

"When it comes to water, no man is an island," says President Loretta Warden.

Her group will ask a panel of specialists what can be done to preserve water, what will become of the water supply with salt water well intrusion, and what where residents will get their water supply should that happen soon.

One question Warden says she will ask is,"What is the status of salt water intrusion, and what, again, is the future for us to deal with any salt water?"

She says the public is invited to come out to the forum at the Hilton Head Island Public Service District Meeting Room at 21 Oaks Park Drive on Hilton Head Island. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m.

Panelists to answer questions include Richard Cyr, General Manager of Hilton Head Public Service District, Ed Saxon, General Manager of Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, Kelly Ferda, General Manager of South Island Public Service District, Russell Hildebrand, General Manager of Broad Creek Public Service District, Rob McFee, Beaufort County Division Director for Engineering and Infrastructure, Steve Riley, Town Manager of Hilton Head Island, and James Ayers, the Assistant Town Manager and Director of Public Engineering and Public Works for Bluffton.

 

 

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