Older neighborhoods battle over water costs

Oct. 24, 2000
Kathy and Randy Wojdyla have gone through three hot-water tanks in 10 years and spend about $100 a month on bottled water because the well water at their house on Rhode is so bad.


SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich., Oct. 20, 2000 (The Detroit News) — Kathy and Randy Wojdyla have gone through three hot-water tanks in 10 years and spend about $100 a month on bottled water because the well water at their house on Rhode is so bad.

"It also plugs up our toilet and stains the appliances," Kathy Wojdyla said. "I would prefer having city water. I know the market value of our house would go up."

But a down-the-street neighbor, Roseann Follebout, said her well water is just fine, and she doesn't want to spend the $6,000 to $8,000 it would cost to hook up to a proposed municipal water line on her street.

"My husband and I have lived here for 27 years and we've raised two grown sons. They're healthy, strapping boys," she added. "We have our (well) water tested regularly. It's safe and it tastes better than city water."

About 40 property owners on Rhode between Van Dyke and Remer, just south of 22 Mile, in Shelby Township are facing a dilemma that sooner or later hits most once-rural areas that become heavily urbanized.

Do they give in to the rush of progress and accept city services like nearly all surrounding residents, or do they try to continue their ex-urban lifestyle?

Township officials are in no hurry to pressure residents, even though all new homes in Shelby Township are required to be connected to city water and sewer lines. They're leaving it up to the residents on Rhode, who so far seem evenly split between well-water and city- water advocates.

"No politician in Shelby Township is going to force someone to accept city water," said Township Treasurer Linda Stout, "and then tell them, 'Have a nice day, and be sure to vote for me.'"

According to Ted Schoenherr, the township's Department of Public Works director, hookups to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department system are available to about 95 percent of Shelby's land area.

Many of the township's older homes that were built with water- wells and septic fields decades ago, before city water and sewers were available, are now connected, he added.

Sign of the times

Local officials equate city water and sewer systems with growth.

Virtually all homes and businesses south of Hall Road in Macomb County have had city water and sewer for years, as do an increasingly number north of Hall in growing communities like Shelby, Macomb and Chesterfield townships.

But, because of the cost — property owners have to pay for the extensions of water and sewer lines — township officials leave the decision up to property owners.

The process begins with a petition from a majority of property owners. In May, a slim, 52 percent majority of the Rhode owners signed petitions that asked for a water line. Sewer lines are not part of the petition, so all Rhode residents would continue to use their septic systems.

Schoenherr's office hired an engineer who came up with a preliminary estimate of $220,000 to install an eight-inch water line along the north side of Rhode from Van Dyke to Remer. Rhode residents east of Remer already have city water.

Divided by the 40 lot owners, that meant each would pay $5,500 for the line. But each would also have to pay additional costs running into the thousands to connect their house plumbing systems to the new water line.

At a public hearing before the township board earlier this week, both city-water and well-water advocates showed up en masse to argue their positions.

Follebout told board members that the petitions were circulated over an 18-month period. Since then, properties have been sold and residents moved away. Other petition signers have changed their minds, she said.

"I took my own poll and I found 20 (of the 40) don't want city water," Follebout added.

Worth the cost

Many well problems can be solved by digging deeper wells than the 15-foot-deep wells that were once common in the area, according to Follebout.

"We dug a new well three or four years ago and the water from it tastes terrific," she added. "People who come to my house can't believe it's well water."

Like other longtime Rhode residents, the Follebouts moved to the street because they liked the area's rural atmosphere, with its 100- foot-wide lots and abundance of trees.

"You won't find these kinds of lots in the newer subs," Follebout said.

But city-water advocate Wojdyla isn't interested in digging a new well that would cost her thousands of dollars any way. Low water pressure from her well is just one of several problems the family has experienced.

"I would like to take a shower and not be scalded with hot water whenever someone flushes the toilet," she said.

The township board sent the proposal back to the public works department so it could work up more accurate estimates on the cost of the Rhode water line.

That's what resident James Wulbrecht is waiting for before he makes up his mind.

"I'm retired and on a fixed income," he said. "This water line could cost us $10,000 by the time we're hooked up, and I don't know if we'll recover that in the value of our house."

Common water well problems and possible causes:

  • Low pressure, volume or flow: possibly from worn pump, plugged screen, hole or break in plumbing.
  • Gray-colored water: caused by colloidal clay or high amounts of dissolved solids.
  • Smelly water: caused by bacteria or chemical contaminated water source.
  • Red-colored water: caused by iron in the water or iron- precipitating bacteria.
  • Positive nitrite or nitrate test: proven health risk, especially for pregnant mammals and young children.

Source: The Well Doctor, Trumansville, N.Y.

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