Courtesy of The NY Times
By KATHERINE BINDLEY OCT. 10, 2008
There is something deeply anachronistic about the sight of men and women crossing a grassy field near Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island, carrying five-gallon plastic jugs to collect the water that bubbles up from an artesian well deep beneath the ground.
Still, on any day, and sometimes even in the middle of the night, someone is likely to be kneeling next to the narrow white pipe that leads to the well, filling up a jug, a bottle or a mouth.
Water flows from the pipe steadily, as if someone had turned on a faucet and forgotten to turn it off. A white sign designates the property, which is on Ontario Avenue, as belonging to the Marine Corps League, a fraternal group for current and former members of the service, but the fountain is open to the public. “The water is a gift from mother nature,” the sign says. “Enjoy It.”
Although the well is common knowledge in this part of the island, the visitors who have created the twin dirt paths leading to it come from places like Brooklyn, the Bronx and New Jersey. Nevertheless, they share an allegiance to this water and a confidence in its purity, despite the fact that people have different theories about where it comes from, and despite the fact that the water is not monitored by the city.
“I started coming around six or seven years ago,” said Resit Telic, a 52-year-old manager of an apartment building who lives nearby and who could be seen on a recent Friday filling half a dozen jugs to take home for drinking. “Then I met people that were filling water here for like 48 years, 53 years.”
Another recent visitor was Mentor Sela, a 52-year-old technical inspector for the city’s School Construction Authority. “A cousin of mine told me,” Mr. Sela said, explaining how he learned of the well. “It’s excellent and it’s free. They say, ‘If it’s for free, it’s for me.’ ”
Richard Meldrum, 66, a former marine who was working behind the bar at the league’s clubhouse, said he had seen people come from Manhattan and Connecticut — not to mention a fellow who came from Delaware.
“He still comes up every once in a while,” Mr. Meldrum said. “Probably has family up here, too — I don’t know. But he was up for water.”
Although Mr. Meldrum says he has no idea where the water comes from, he insists that it makes his tea taste better. “Some say it comes from the hills; some say it comes from Pennsylvania,” he said. “Upstate, Poconos, nobody knows.”
Since the island is separated from Pennsylvania and any other land mass, those theories seem unlikely.
What is known, at least according to articles in The Staten Island Advance, is that in the late 1800s, the property belonged to an entity known as the Crystal Water Company. Before Staten Island had access to reservoirs upstate, private companies like Crystal bottled and sold well water from the island.
According to Anthony Sarcone, the commanding officer of the Marine Corps League, the water was tested 15 years ago by a lab in New Jersey. At the time, Mr. Sarcone was told that its chemical makeup matched that of water from the mountains in northern New Jersey.
But Ron Busciolano, a hydrologist in the Long Island office of the United States Geological Survey who has studied ground-water networks on Staten Island, said of the water’s source: “It’s definitely not from upstate or from Pennsylvania. It’s Staten Island water.”
Although his office does not monitor the well, Mr. Busciolano said that the only natural source of freshwater on the island was precipitation, which moves through the soil and into the underlying aquifer system.
In 1995, The Staten Island Advance sent a sample of the water from the well to a laboratory in Flushing, Queens, for an article. The lab found the water to be slightly caustic, but not dangerous, according to the paper.
BECAUSE the well is on private property, the city’s health department does not test the water regularly. But Sara Markt, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that tests in 2003 and 2005 showed that the water was acceptable for drinking.
A year ago, the Marines considered locking the gates leading to the field to prevent littering. Residents objected and vowed to watch over the property. As a result, the site remains open and the infatuation with the water continues.
Devotees include Paul Ryan, who moved to Staten Island when he was 5 and served as a marine in World War II. Now 88, Mr. Ryan figures that he has been drinking the well’s water for 83 years.
“That’s what makes me nice and healthy,” he said one recent afternoon by phone from the league’s bar.
“Well, right now I’m drinking beer,” he acknowledged. “I don’t want to mix them.”