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Water problems starting to clear up

Pocomoke City Manager Bobby Cowger on Monday demonstrates vast improvement in water quality with before and after test samples from the Heights neighborhood. Cowger said if the improvements continue the decades-old water problem in Pocomoke could be resolved by the end of the year.

City manager demonstrates how far town has come, what still needs to be done

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(March 8, 2018) The Pocomoke City Council on Monday endorsed steps toward a small increase in water rates meant to offset the cost of solving a decades old water-quality problem.

City Manager Bobby Cowger proposed a $1 increase per 1,000 gallons. The current rate is $6 per 1,000 gallons.

“When I started, my number-one priority was to try to resolve the water problem,” he said.

Cowger placed several plastic bottles before the council, all filled with brown water.

“This is the water that we were testing in the Heights,” he said. “We fixed the wells and the filters and got all that done, [and] we spent almost $300,000 on the plant. We’ve been replacing some pipes, as you already know, out in the Heights.”

He said the brown water was from testing done just before Christmas.

Then, Cowger placed several bottles of clear water he said were samples from the same sources, but taken earlier that morning from Dorchester Street, 14th Street, Princess Anne Lane and Market Street. He took a drink from one of the clear bottles.

“It’s quite a difference,” he said. “We’ve been going in the right direction. There’s no question we’re getting the water problem resolved here, but we’ve still got quite a ways to go.”

Cowger said engineers put together a proposal to replace 10,400 feet of pipes in the entire Heights neighborhood using grants and loans, at a cost of about $2.9 million.

The first 1,300 feet of that project, all of 14th Street, was recently replaced by the public works deparment and lines could be charged as soon as this week, Cowger said. He said a proposal to continue that work using public works would cost about $1.1 million.

“As you can see, we’re real close to getting this water problem resolved. If we get the rest of these pipes fixed and that IOREX [pilot program] that’s working, by the end of this year we could have the water problem that’s been going on for 40 years in Pocomoke resolved 100 percent – no doubt in my mind,” Cowger said.

He asked for the council to support a resolution to increase water rates temporarily, until the project is paid off, and then revert back to the old rate.

“One dollar per 1,000 [gallons] … would generate about $85,000 a year,” Cowger said. “We would have that paid off in 10 years.

“Unfortunately, the condition that the city’s been left here over the years, we have to do something,” he added. “I would hate to not keep going with this, because this water problem could be resolved by the end of this year.”

Cowger added replacing pipes was “not rocket science.”

“We’re having no problem, no issues doing this in-house and we can save the city well over $500,000 to $1 million,” he said.

Councilman George Tasker said his water was “probably 99 percent better than it was” already.

“I think there’s a great improvement,” he said, adding he watched public works crews install several lines and was impressed by what he saw. “These guys have done an awesome job … the more they do it, the faster they’re getting.”

The council voted unanimously to support the increase. Cowger said the resolution would require a period of advertising, followed by a public hearing, before it could be formally adopted.

“I don’t really think anybody … would complain about a $2 or $3 a month increase in their water bill, temporarily, until their water is resolved,” he said. “At the longest, it would be 10 years, because that’s what it would take to pay the note off.”