When Ronald Mattadeen turns on his sink, he sees light brown water. In his toilet, a stubborn brown ring marks the bowl. And when he fills up his pool, it looks like mud.
“You couldn’t even see the bottom,” he said. “I had to use chemicals to get it back to normal.”
Mattadeen lives in Otter Creek, a town of about 137 residents. He has lived there for 11 years and said the town has a continuous history of water contamination problems. For cooking and drinking, residents have to use bottled water, and for all other uses, like flushing the toilet or taking a shower, the contaminated water is used.
A sign posted at the local Hershel’s Quick Stop displays that the levels of total trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids in the town’s well are under the maximum contaminant levels for this month, but it is not certain how long that will last.
“It gets worse, and then it clears up, and then it gets worse,” said Darlene Perry. “It’s an ongoing battle.”
Perry, 77, has lived in Bronson for 13 years and has owned the Otter Creek Baptist Church for just as long. She said they use water softener to make the water drinkable for the churchgoers and children at the adjacent Creekside Christian School.
“We had it tested after we put a softener in the kitchen area, and they said the water was 100 percent usable to drink,” Perry said. “It just looks bad.”
Connie Caldwell, the town clerk, said they have been trying to find a plot of land to buy that has clean water. A 4 or 5-acre plot would be enough to put in a test well, and if that well works out, a pipeline could be run to Otter Creek.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of land for sale that has decent water,” Caldwell said.
The town would need a very complicated pumping station to completely treat the water.
“We don’t have enough population base to support a really expensive plant,” she said. “We can get grant money to get it built, but then you have got to be able to maintain it, and that’s expensive.”
In December of last year, a 13-mile pipeline was proposed between Otter Creek and the nearby city of Chiefland, but that fell through one month later in January.
Chiefland City Manager Mary Ellzey said that the proposal did not pass the city council, so Otter Creek residents have continued to use bottled water.
Caldwell said Chiefland would not sell water to Otter Creek.
“They decided it’s not in their best interest, which is hard to believe,” she said. “The deal we presented to them was going to give them $1.2 million of infrastructure for the southern part of their town, which they wanted to revitalize anyway.”
The residents have been dealing with the water issues for years and have adjusted, but frustrations are mounting.
“We’re not in a good geological area,” said Mayor Cleah Martin. “The well is right down the highway, and as traffic grew there was more runoff.”
However, Martin is optimistic that they can acquire land with clean water for Otter Creek.
“We’re searching for other sources,” she said, “and hoping within the next year we can find one.”