Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
DRINKING WATER: Fouled Water Strains Butler County (PA) Residents

Janet McIntyre is sick of drinking water from plastic bottles.

She‘s among a growing number of neighboring families in Butler County using donated bottled water, claiming their tap water sickened them, stinks and stains what it touches. Federal, state and industry testing ruled unfounded the neighbors‘ claims that gas drilling polluted water wells.

“It‘s rough. I wake up and think about water all day long. Water, water, water,” McIntyre, 53, said as she sat across from about a dozen boxes of bottled water in her living room in the Woodlands neighborhood. “We can‘t live like this. It‘s a temporary solution to a long-term problem.”

A church-supported charity, Water for Woodlands, spends about $400 a week to provide residents with drinking water. Recipients doubled to 25 families since the charity began about nine months ago, said McIntyre, who coordinates the program.

Government officials are working on a plan to bring municipal water to the neighborhood but said it‘s at least a year away and there are hurdles to clear.

Residents‘ wells started becoming fouled early in 2011.

Activist group Marcellus Outreach Butler will hold a fundraising lasagna dinner on Saturday. More than 100 people signed up at $15 a plate, said Diane Sipe, an organizer. The group helps support Water for Woodlands, which 10 churches sponsor. A family of four can use about 25 gallons of drinking water a week.

It costs about $1 per gallon, said the Rev. Lee Dreyer of White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church. “We can go, I hope, as long as we have to. But for their sake, we hope we don‘t have to.”

Wells for more than 50 households have had some kind of problem, such as black, sulfide-smelling water, red water that looks like acid mine drainage, or elevated salts and pH problems, said John Stolz, a biological sciences professor at Duquesne University. His research team reached about 160 of 268 households, he said.

“I think it‘s horrible,” Dreyer said about their situation. “They are learning to be very thrifty with their use of the water. Every drop is precious to them.”

Township, county and state officials talked with Pennsylvania American Water Co. about laying a water line to the neighborhood. Rex Energy Corp. paid to build a line nearby to supply its shale drilling operations, and that line could be connected to the neighborhood for drinking water when the company finishes next fall, water company spokesman Gary Lobaugh said.

State grant money could cover the $800,000 cost of that extension, but only if Woodlands residents or the township take it the rest of the way, officials said. County, state and water company officials are waiting to hear from township supervisors whether residents would commit to using a new tap, paying for distribution lines to homes or at least providing rights of way for the township to do that, they said. Residents worry about the expense, McIntyre said.

“I feel the chances would be great if they apply” for grant money, said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County. “... What‘s going to be inherent upon the residents of Woodlands is their willingness to participate.”

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