Water on Star
“Star Island is an island completely surrounded by water,” so said Arnold Whittaker, former owner and captain of the boats that ferried passengers to and from Star from 1962 through the 90s. “And you wouldn’t think that water would be a problem…” but it is and has been a challenge for many years. The recent installation of two reverse osmosis units on Star Island has gotten us thinking about the recent history of water on Star. Here’s a scattered history of fresh water, as remembered by Dick Case, Jr. with fact-checking and additional information from DDP, Susy and Tom Mansfield, and Joe Watts.
The well on the front lawn once supplied drinking water during the off-season. Dave and Edith Pierson used well water during the winter months at the EMB, and in the spring pumped the drinking water tanks full from the well at least once for open up. Dick remembers carrying 5-gallon pails of water from the well to the kitchen for open-up drinking water during the 1960s. (Marital duty compels me to pause and nod admiringly towards the well house, which was reconstructed in 2003 almost exclusively by former Pelican volunteer labor).
The cistern ponds near the Art Center were another reliable source of fresh water. There was a time, up until the 60s, when most of the regular season washing water was pumped from the cistern ponds. It could be distinguished from the drinking water by its “tea” color, which assured there was little chance of conferees drinking it by accident. As our fresh water needs grew we began expanding our water resources.
Back in the ‘60s a single fresh water tank was placed on Chapel Hill, above Engineers, to feed the kitchen. Fresh water was brought out on the Kiboko and every boat after it, up through the M/V Thomas Laighton. Dave remembers that during the 1970’s and 1980’s we managed to increase the water coming from Portsmouth, first by installing a storage tank at the dock in Portsmouth so the boat tanks could be filled in the short time the boat was tied up between runs — at that time there was only a small feed from the city water system, eventually a larger feed was installed and the tank at the dock was no longer needed and the tank was moved to the Island. This increase in water from Portsmouth allowed any overflow of drinking water to flow into the Cistern, eliminating the need to pump water from the ponds. Pond water always contained a fair amount of salt blown into them during winter storms and washed off the rocks, plus seagull droppings, making the water corrosive to steel pipes, especially heat exchangers used for heating hot water.
The Kleinschmidt 150-Gallon-per-Hour Vapor Compression Distillation Units were installed in the early 1960s. The Kleinschmidt Units were two large machines that converted salt water into fresh water through evaporation. They were old WWII military units and considerable converting had to be done – Jeep engine removed and a 3-phase motor substituted and steam connection made. The units and conversions were paid for by Miss Hilda Camp, a UCC conferee. (Since this is about water we’ll mention that Hilda Camp also requested that Poland Spring water be carried in the snack bar, back at a time when bottled water of that sort was not as common as it is now). The units worked, Dave measured it one time at 2 gallons/minute which was near their rating, but they had a number of downsides. They were large, the two units took up half the floor space in the back room of the powerhouse. They also used a lot of steam and electricity to produce water, in fact a whole generator and boiler were devoted to running the units. An engineer had to keep an eye on the levels – if the machine drew in too much salt water it could overflow into the fresh water. They also required frequent cleaning of salt residue in the cooling coils. They were used more as a back-up when fresh water was really needed. The maintenance crew tried to keep the units operating until Miss Camp passed away, then, after several years of not being used, they were removed from the Power House and scrapped during the summer of 1981.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Dave Pierson championed and supervised expansion of the roof top rainwater gutter collection system that augmented our cistern water resources. It was a good thing because the installation of a fire sprinkler system in 1987 further expanded our water needs. It is necessary to keep the system charged with fresh water and have 35,000 gallons of water in the cistern at all times for the proper functioning of the sprinkler system.
This year the island installed two Reverse Osmosis Water Makers and for the first time in recent memory we’ve been able to create and collect enough fresh water to meet the island’s needs. The R/O systems are an efficient and proven technology for turning salt water into fresh drinking water, in fact the same system has been used on Appledore Island for several years. Having two water makers provides redundancy for our single source of drinking water on island. While the two machines are probably able to produce all the fresh water that is needed (even though the machines were rated for 8,000 gallons per day over a 24 hour period, we’re actually getting 10,000 gpd over a 24 hour period) the cistern is still used for the sprinkler system and the Underworld showers. Our R/O machines are part of a fully licensed and regulated water treatment facility and we are in compliance with all state and federal regulations. So, this summer if anyone asks you if that’s a fresh water in the pitcher on your dresser, you can answer, “Yes, it’s fresh water, it was made this morning!”