Berks Vital Signs

Water, water, everywhere, but is it safe to drink?

Part II

Recent contamination threatens Berks water sources

By Anthony Orozco
Journalist for Berks Vital Signs

 November 4, 2019 – While farming has a reputation for impairing local waterways, Berks watersheds also face an ongoing onslaught from other manmade threats and contamination risks:

  • Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection fined Sunoco $148,000 (since this report was published, this link has been disabled) for negatively affecting water wells in Berks, Chester and Lebanon counties. The construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline, built to transport natural gas liquids east from western Pennsylvania and neighboring states, tainted 16 private wells.

  • DEP is almost halfway through a year-long testing initiative, inspecting more than 300 water systems across the state. That testing is looking for particularly common and toxic chemicals known as PFAS and PFOS.

Nature presents its own hazards.

Municipalities and institutions such as universities and prisons that must meet specific standards are required to obtain permits for discharges of storm water from their storm sewer systems. Over the past year, those systems have been put to the test. A historic amount of rain in Berks caused some sewer plants to overflow into waterways (since this report was published, this link has been disabled).

 

Water system violations   

Water systems are at risk of being poorly monitored and poorly managed, allowing people to drink water that has high levels of contaminants or disinfectants.

The EPA has an online list of water system violations by state and county that date back two decades. There are hundreds of violations of private and community water systems in Berks County listed in that database.

The community water system in Berks with the largest number of violations has been Lenape Hills Trailer Park, Washington Township, with 436 violations. The system serves 44 people. Violations at Lenape Hills included failure to report certain chemicals in the water, failure to notify consumers of those chemicals, and failure to monitor for certain materials.

 

Community water systems in Berks with more than 100 violations and serving more than 500 people:

Muhlenberg Township Municipal Authority: 148 violations (21,000 people served)

North Heidelberg Water System: 143 (1,350)

Womelsdorf Robesonia Joint Authority: 131 (7,070)

Caernarvon Township Authority: 121 (4,245)

Fleetwood Borough Water System: 120 (4,218)

Lyons Borough: 120 (500)

Maidencreek Township Water Authority: 118 (7,505)

Boyertown Municipal Authority: 110 (8,000)

Birdsboro Municipal Water Authority: 106 (5,353)

 

Source water protection plans

Source water protection plans identify a community water system’s source of water. They also evaluate what geographic areas should be protected and what steps should be taken to preserve the water’s quality. The plans also identify existing contamination threats, possible contingency plans if the water source is corrupted, and long- and short-term goals for the protection area.

Currently, only 30 of the nearly 80 community water systems in Berks have source water protection plans in place:

 

System Name     Source water municipality    Population served    Source
Reading Area Water Authority Ontelaunee 87,000 surface water
PAW Penn District Spring Township 29,525 ground water
Western Berks Water Authority Shillington 25,000 surface water
PAW Glen Alsace Exeter 23,750 ground water
Muhlenberg Township Municipal Authority Muhlenberg 21,000 ground water
Mount Penn Municipal Water Authority Mount Penn 10,400 ground water
Kutztown Borough Water Kutztown 8,600 ground water
Boyertown Municipal Authority* Boyertown 7,775 ground and surface water
Maidencreek Township Water Authority Maidencreek 7,337 ground water
Womelsdorf Robesonia Joint Authority Womelsdorf 7,070 ground water
Wernersville Municipal Water Authority Wernersville 6,357 ground water
Birdsboro Municipal Water Authority Birdsboro 5,353 surface water
Hamburg Municipal Water & Sewer Authority Hamburg 4,990 ground water
Fleetwood Borough Water System Fleetwood 4,218 ground water
Caernarvon Township Authority Caernarvon 4,139 ground water
Oley Township Municipal Authority OLEY 2,204 ground water
Shoemakersville Borough Water System Shoemakersville 2,150 ground water
RAWA-North Heidelberg North Heidelberg 1,350 ground water
Village of Pleasant Hill Tilden 1,200 ground water
Bernville Borough Authority Bernville 1,010 ground water
Lyons Borough Lyons 500 ground water
Maxatawny Township Municipal Authority Maxatawny 425 ground water
WBWA-Mohrsville Water Centre 375 ground water
Laurel Health Resources Tilden 240 ground water
PAW Golden Oaks Fleetwood 100 ground water
Country View mobile home park Longswamp 98 ground water
Geisingers mobile home park Hereford 90 ground water
Urban Acres mobile home park Alsace 80 ground water
Meadows at Bethel mobile home park Bethel 50 ground water
Valley View mobile home park Blandon Richmond 50 ground water

 

* In queue to obtain plan

 

Part III in this series looks at the challenges of maintaining safe water systems, community water systems versus private wells, fluoridation, and a plan to replace water lines in Reading that contain lead.