Peter Melroy, chair of the Holbrook Community Foundation’s Facilities Committee, points to settling tanks in the basement of Holbrook’s General Store. (John Gormley photo)

If you were looking for an example of the range of problems that can affect groundwater in Harpswell, you need only go to Cundy’s Harbor, where the Holbrook Community Foundation owns a wharf, restaurant, general store and apartment building. This complex has hit the trifecta of groundwater problems: insufficient supply, saltwater intrusion and high mineral content.

Holbrook’s water problems have a long history. The Harpswell Anchor published a front-page story in the December 2007 edition about the foundation’s efforts to fix its water problems. More than 15 years later, the organization is still looking for the right solution.

Eric Wilson, of Water Doctors, was working with Holbrook in 2007 and continues to assist the foundation with its water supply.

“It’s been an incredible challenge down there,” he said. “Theirs is the most extreme case I have.”

Peter Melroy, chair of the foundation’s Facilities Committee, knows the problems firsthand. His responsibilities for the upkeep of the complex include the water supply.

“It’s a maintenance nightmare,” Melroy said.

The complexity of the task is evidenced by the array of water tanks and treatment equipment filling the space under the general store. The equipment includes pumps, five settling tanks for removing particulates, a series of filters for removing finer materials, a reverse osmosis machine that can remove salt and other dissolved materials, and nine storage tanks with a capacity of 3,000 gallons.

“We’re trying to get everything you can get out of the water before it goes through the R.O.,” Melroy said, referring to the reverse osmosis system.

Two years ago, the foundation installed a new well. The water quality was acceptable at first, but soon began to decline. “The freshwater component was getting less and less,” Melroy said. Now it’s “rusty and briny stuff.”

The reverse osmosis system removes impurities from the well water, but to produce a single gallon of potable water, it needs to process more than 3 gallons of well water, according to Wilson. That high level of waste adds to the burden on the well.

This winter the foundation is letting the well rest in hopes that the water quality will improve. For the moment, the complex is being supplied with water trucked in and kept in the tanks under the store.

The foundation, which exists to protect working waterfront and support commercial fishing, is also considering whether to revive efforts to pump salt water from the nearby New Meadows River through the reverse osmosis system. Earlier efforts to use seawater ran afoul of mussels that clogged the intake lines. Now the hope is that treating the seawater with ultraviolet light will solve the mussel problem.

For now, the foundation has three possible sources of water: the well, the New Meadows River and truck deliveries.

“I think that it would be presumptuous to say we are on top of it. We have an approach,” Melroy said. “Three different ways, that’s pretty good.”

This article is part of “Development and the Harpswell Environment,” a Harpswell Anchor special report.