Thursday, June 01, 2006

What You Should Know About Drinking Water in Wellfleet

I didn’t think much about water before moving to this fragile spit of sand we call Cape Cod. Water came from the faucet. Municipal water didn't taste good but was safe to drink. Here, in Wellfleet, most residents get their water from wells. We all share the water that flows in lenses under us. Our aquifer is replenished by acid rain. We pump H2O up from the aquifer. We put H2O back in the form of wastewater.

This give and take worked fine until recently when nitrate levels up and down the Cape rose. This rise coincided with a marked increase in population: we live in such a desirable location that everyone wanted to join us. What goes into the ground in one yard, inevitably ends up in wells throughout the neighborhood. High nitrates may be due to a neighbor's failing cesspool. Maybe someone put too much fertilizer on a lawn. Or, perhaps the new four-bedroom house across the road played a part. Unfortunately, people = waste = nitrates.

The situation is the worst in the Central District. A report on the situation in 2002 can be found here. A Central District municipal water system is now under construction.

Since Chez Sven is a green bed & breakfast, we may be a little more preoccupied with water quality than at other local establishments. We use Pur filters and bottled water. All bed & breakfasts are supposed to test their water annually. Our spring test results just came back: 4.9 ppm. (The State does not advise drinking water that contains 10 ppm. For the Cape Cod Commission, 5 ppm is the advisable limit.)

Recently I have noticed a sheen to tap water, so I did an experiment. I poured water into a clean vase and let it sit for a few days. Sure enough, there was a slightly oily residue on top. Next I poured filtered water into a clean vase and waited. I am glad to report the surface remained clear.The water in our town is probably cleaner than elsewhere on the Cape because 61% of Wellfleet is National Seashore

What can tourists do about the situation? Be aware of the problem and stay informed. Request bottled water in restaurants. Ask whether your hotel or bed & breakfast filters its water and uses biodegradable detergent. And, finally respect Wellfleet’s water resources …