Two tons of donated water pour into Lee community lacking clean water
Residents worry contaminated well water is making them sick. Andrew West and Janine Zeitlin/news-press.com
More than two tons of bottled water poured into Charleston Park, the rural Alva community that lacks clean running water, thanks to donations from the local nonprofit outreach group Blankets & Blessings.
Jonathan Vanderbur, a Blankets & Blessings board member, spearheaded the Saturday effort with volunteers from Blankets & Blessings and the Charleston Park community center. “It really is a Band-Aid on an open wound,” Vanderbur said. “It’s ridiculous that this is a problem in a place like Southwest Florida as rich as it is. It’s embarrassing.
"This has to change.”
For several years, many Charleston Park residents have relied on bottled water for cooking, drinking, and brushing their teeth.
Blankets & Blessings is also raising money to provide water treatment and reverse osmosis for families after coverage in The News-Press on Charleston Park’s decades of struggle with bad well water quality.
Many people in Charleston Park, where the median household income is $16,000, rent and are unlikely to make expensive improvements of a thousand dollars or more to install the level of water treatment needed to a home they don't own.
Research being prepared for Alva Inc.'s December newsletter shows Charleston Park is owned largely by people who don't live there. Alva Inc. is a community group that works to preserve the rural character of unincorporated Alva, which includes Charleston Park.
The parcel-by-parcel Alva Inc. review showed 28 percent, or 37 of the 131 owners of record in Charleston Park, have Charleston Park addresses. Most owners, 28, had Fort Myers addresses followed by Lehigh Acres. Other addresses ranged from Honolulu to the United Kingdom to Las Vegas.
"There are a lot of owners that live outside of the community and I wonder if they’re reluctant to invest in water systems and I wonder if that’s why the situation is the way it appears to be,” said Don Ruane, the newsletter editor. Ruane, a rural Alva resident, worked more than 30 years as a journalist for The News-Press.
It's hard to define precisely what the root of the bad water problem is as each well is different. Tests from a few deeper wells point to possible saline water contamination in an aquifer that underlays the water table aquifer making the water undrinkable without reverse osmosis though typically, in other parts of the county, that aquifer’s water would be potable.
Past tests have also shown bacteriological contamination in wells. Several wells in Charleston Park, which began in 1926 as a refuge for black farmworkers, are old and shallow, making them prone to contamination. The community amid orange groves off State Road 80 is still primarily African-American.
Lee County and the Department of Health have committed to free testing for bacteria, E. coli, and nitrates, for as many homes as possible.
That effort is expected to happen this month. Vanderbur plans to regularly collect water for Charleston Park and has reached out to a private water company to request 8,000 bottles of water every quarter for a year.
"There are people who still care about each other," he said.
How to Help
Anyone interested in donating water for Charleston Park can contact Vanderbur with Blankets & Blessings at AquaJets76@gmail.com. The group is also collecting tax-deductible donations for water treatment. Donations can be made at blanketsandblessings.com and checks can be earmarked for "clean water." Volunteers have also created a Facebook page, Clean Water for Charleston Park.