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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Delaware Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Partners Upgrade Septic Systems in Coverdale Crossroads:
Quality of Life Improved for Residents


Sharon Webb
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Primary Sources of Pollution:

failing septic systems
Primary NPS Pollutants:



Project Activities:

upgraded septic systems and wells

upgraded 100 septic system
The Coverdale Crossroads Community is in Sussex County, Delaware. Failing septic systems were resulting in contaminated drinking water wells and nutrient loss to surface water and groundwater supplies. Prior to restoration, most residents utilized a cesspool, a failed septic system, or no system at all.

Septic system upgrade

In October 1997 the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) entered into a 3-year partnership with the Coverdale Crossroads Community and First State Community Action to upgrade septic systems and wells. Greenwood Trust Bank and the Sussex Conservation District provided matching funds.

During the first year of implementation, the project had to overcome a number of unanticipated obstacles, resulting from some members of the community living in substandard housing. An upgraded septic system and well are of little use without electricity and plumbing. Near the end of the first year, DNREC joined forces with the Delaware Housing Authority, and donated homes were provided to those in need.

The local Prison Boot Camp and Work Release Program provided laborers for demolishing the substandard homes and clearing debris and trees to make way for subsequent installation of new septic systems and wells. Residents contributed by helping to remove debris and by providing temporary housing for those displaced. The final year has added a partnership with the Resource Conservation and Development Council, which is lending its support in coordinating the last year of project implementation and installation of new housing.

Most of the replacement systems are gravity systems, with the exception of a few low-pressure pipe systems. Follow-up education on maintenance of the system is provided to each homeowner after installation.

Benefits to water quality and residents

By the end of September 2000, about 100 septic systems and more than 50 wells had been upgraded. Based on studies conducted in the Inland Bays watershed, the gravity systems have an efficiency rating for nutrient removal as follows: ammonium, 25 percent; nitrate, 35 percent; and total phosphorus, 90 percent. The efficiency rating for the low-pressure pipe systems is as follows: ammonium, 94 percent; nitrate, 66 percent; and total phosphorus, 90 percent.

Before the failing systems were replaced, remediation of nutrient loads was negligible. Through partnerships, this project has provided direct environmental benefits to groundwater and surface waters while improving the standard of living for many residents of Coverdale Crossroads.

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