( Everything you always wanted to know about your water supply
but had no time to ask )
Where does your water come from?
Is there enough?
What treatment does it get?
Is it safe?
How does it get distributed in town?
Who manages all of this?
Sources: All drinkable water in Atlantic Highlands comes from natural water-bearing layers deep under ground, known as aquifers. No surface water is used. This groundwater is drawn from four active wells which tap into the Raritan and Englishtown aquifers 600 feet and 250 feet below the surface. Natural layers of clay protect the wells from contamination which may be in the ground.
For example, the driller's log for one 600-foot deep well shows 343 feet of clay in seven layers between 4 and 660 feet under ground, like a multi-layered sandwich.
Atlantic Highlands is allowed to draw about 198 million gallons of water per year from these aquifers, but actual usage is sometimes lower, especially during a cooler summer. Since these aquifers serve wide areas, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) monitors the balance between extraction and natural replenishment, telling towns how much they can draw.
Your water supply
DEP is concerned about depletion of aquifers underlying Monmouth County, which is classified as a "critical area." Aquifers are recharged by water infiltrating from surface outcrops, wetlands, stream corridors, and soils which allow deep penetration of water. If natural recharge areas are developed or covered by impervious surfaces, infiltration can be adversely affected. All Raritan formation outcrops are in Middlesex County. The Englishtown aquifer is recharged from an area between Belford and Ideal Beach along the bay shore, going southwest 20 miles as far as Monroe Township in Middlesex County. In Atlantic Highlands it is regularly monitored at a well off East Highland Avenue operated by the US Geological Survey, New Jersey District.
Treatment: Water pumped from the wells is piped into the central treatment and distribution plant on West Lincoln Avenue. There, raw well water goes through several steps -- aeration to remove any odor-causing hydrogen sulfide, clarification by adding lime and alum which coagulates iron and settles it into a sludge pit, and filtering to "polish" the water and remove any residual color. Chlorine is added as mandated by DEP at the rate of one to two pounds in the 500,000 gallons of water used per day (average), leaving a miniscule residual (0.3 parts per million). The importance of the treatment process is emphasized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which warns that "inadequately treated water may contain disease-causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated Headaches."
Distribution: After treatment, water is pumped to two storage tanks at high elevations in town so as to maintain water pressure and use gravity for distribution downhill. The tank at Observatory Place holds a million gallons, and 200,000 gallons can go in the tank above East Highland Avenue and Eastpoint shopping center -- about a two-day supply in summer and three days in winter. If an emergency ever cut off our supply, service could be provided by a connection at neighboring Leonardo with the New Jersey American Water Company.
The distribution system needs constant maintenance and is regularly upgraded; perhaps a fourth is over 100 years old. A new valve recently installed on the East Highland Avenue tank increased water pressure between the bayside and the hilltop. Eight-inch pipes have replaced all two-inch and many four-inch ones to expand flow volume. Annual flushing scours out the pipes. Over 200 hydrants provide fire protection, including several dozen recently added.
Such improvements have reduced residents' complaints. There is still occasionally low water pressure in some locations. Dirty water can occur temporarily when sediments are disturbed by flushing, firefighting use or illegal opening of hydrants. Some problems are caused by sediment collecting in water main dead-ends, but these will all eventually be eliminated, as already done next to Sears Avenue/Many Mind Creek.
Testing: Water samples from around the Borough are regularly tested by independent water-quality laboratories, and results go to the Borough and DEP. Federal and State governments have established test procedures and limits called maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for over 80 substances found in water. All results from our water tests show no contaminants are present, except for six substances which sometimes occur in miniscule amounts very far below the enforced MCL limits. Our required water tests cover:
• Microbes such as viruses and bacteria -- 6 samples per month. Results are all negative.
• 16 inorganic chemicals. For four years, no lead and copper were found, so testing was reduced from 40 samples a year to 20 samples once every three years; a small amount of lead was detected in one 1999 sample. Very low levels of naturally occurring fluoride and barium have also been detected.
• 62 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from industrial and petroleum by-products. Testing four times a year found none, so DEP reduced test frequency to once per year.
• Radioactive contaminants, occurring naturally or from oil, gas or mining activities. Testing is on a reduced frequency of once every four years. Only one contaminant, alpha emitters, was found at very low levels in 1999.
Other tests check on 15 secondary contaminants, which have no health impact but may affect water's odor, taste or appearance or have cosmetic effects on skin or teeth. Chloride levels have remained minimal and steady for many years, indicating that salty sea water is not invading the aquifer. Iron and manganese, tested once every three years, were present in small amounts in this year's results.
Under Federal law, all water users now receive an annual report on drinking water quality, which lists only those contaminants which were detected in the water. Our town's first report covered 1998. If you want a copy of the latest annual report, ask at Borough Hall.
Administration: The entire operation is run by the Atlantic Highlands Water Department, an independent, self-sustaining utility within the Borough government. It has 1,800 customers, revenues of $1.83 million a year, and four full-time employees, including one licensed to operate treatment facilities. Its budget comes entirely from user fees.
Prepared by the Environmental Commission, September 2000