It has been three weeks since our water became unsuitable for consumption, cooking , bathing and washing. The only thing we have been able to do with our water is use it to flush the toilet! I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to have a potty training toddler in a house with toxic water for 3 weeks. (This is a photo of the water that was coming out of our tap. Believe it or not, it smells worse than it looks! Our initial water test showed positive for eColi and coliform.) My kitchen is full of laundry, empty water bottles and dirty dishes. It has been a very frustrating month! At least 5 other families on our street have been affected by this particular event. The wells affected range in depth from 40 -200 feet deep. The DEC and Public Health sent some investigators/engineers out to assess the situation. The engineers agree that the liquid manure is somehow getting into the aquifer here but they cannot determine the point of contamination and therefore can't assign responsibility for the contamination to any one person or event. (Rolling my eyes.) Our neighborhood is pushing for more studies. The farmer is co-operating with investigations but refuses to accept any blame as he has been spreading in compliance with his CAFO regs. He is working with the Health Department engineers to review his CAFO regulations to try and prevent a similar contamination from happening.
While I was very angry at the beginning of this ordeal, I have cooled off quite a bit. Lots of people have told me that our neighborhood should seek a class-action or civil lawsuit but I do not think that is a true solution. (Neither do I think that any of us can afford to seek legal action - we are a very low income neighborhood in a very depressed county. Most of the homes on our street that have been affected by this event value at under $80,000. Nor would it be good for our tax base to start putting legal pressures on these large agri-businesses.) This farmer did not write the laws that require large farms to lagoon their manure and he probably does not have time or money to seek out other disposal or processing solutions. Our country at large needs to re-think our approach to agriculture and small farming communities like ours need to be part of the large picture as new regulations are being made. We also need more funding for green energy & fertilizer, including grants (not loans) for equipment for alternative processing of manure. (Like methane power plants and drying beds for manure)
It did quickly become obvious that there are no laws in place the protect a rural homeowner's water supply. No one but me is responsible for cleaning up the water in my well. In fact, there aren't even any funds available at our local Public Health Dept. or from our town government to help defray the cost of monthly water testing that DOH recommends. They say that lack of these monthly testing records is the main reason that they cannot assign responsibility for the contamination. If we all had a few years' worth of water quality records certified by the state, proving clean water up until the day of the big, sloppy thaw, they would have better evidence that manure spread on that particular field under the right conditions can lead directly to contamination of the aquifer here. Home testing kits and anecdotal evidence based on individual observations (no one has been sick, no one's water was stinky, etc....) does not cut it as far as the DEC and DOH are concerned. That does burn me. None of our neighbors can afford an extra 45 bucks a month for the coliform/eColi and Nitrate testing they want us all to do. But our wells are contaminated and we all have to spend hundreds of dollars trying to make them safe again without any support from the government agencies that our tax dollars go to support..
So, having discovered a complete lack of financial support from the public service sector, I did a great deal of research about filtration systems, including calling a local water quality company, to find out what our options were. NYS has only certified chlorination and UV light systems for use in public facilities or where food is prepared for sale, therefore those are the only systems that they can recommend to homeowners. Both are expensive and involve using lots of chemicals and electricity. (The UV system is only guaranteed to work if the water is filtered and softened before it passes through the UV unit.) They are both quite pricey and involve substantial upkeep costs and labor - lugging bags of chemicals and salt down the cellar stairs, changing out huge charcoal canisters. We received quotes ranging from $1,500 to $7,000 for these types of systems. Ozone was recommended by a friend who works in a water treatment plant and we looked into that but it was also pricey and required electricity. We ended up choosing a ceramic filter manufactured by Doulton that is supposed to remove all dangerous beasties in your water. It is basically the same technology used by campers and outdoorsmen who need to get clean water from a stream or a swampy area. We purchased a pre-filter to remove sediment before our water goes through the ceramic candles. We got everything from a company called Pure-Earth who seemed to have the most options at the most affordable prices. They shipped everything very quickly and my husband worked all weekend getting everything installed. We took our first showers at home in 3 weeks during the wee hours of Easter morning! We'll be dropping off a sample for testing to make sure that everything is clean and good for drinking tomorrow. If it works, we will have solved our problem for about $350.00 with an upkeep cost of approximately $250-300 annually.