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Foxborough DPW Director: Brown Water is Expensive Problem; ‘Will Take Years to Fix’

Foxborough DPW Director Roger Hill says the town's brown water is aesthetically displeasing but otherwise safe; calls the issue an expensive problem that will take years to fix.

Foxborough Department of Public Works Director Roger Hill has heard the complaints of brown water in town and can relate to the frustrations voiced by residents fed up with “dirty water.”

“I’ve had my share of laundry ruined by [brown water],” Hill said. “I have very few white t-shirts left.”

Hill said most of the brown water complaints in town have come from the Chestnut Street, Park Street, Mechanic Street and South Street area and while the dirty water ruins laundry and is “aesthetically displeasing,” it does not pose any risks to one’s health.

“It is safe water,” Hill said. “The brown is a mixture of red and black from iron and manganese. … It’s not dangerous, it’s not a health risk; it’s a problem because [of the color and its stain on laundry].”

The root of the issue, according to Hill, stems from an old system of low-yield wells that hasn’t been regularly flushed for years.

“We have a system that goes back quite a long ways,” Hill said … “If you don’t flush your system periodically, material collects at the bottom of the pipes for a long period of time. The result is if there is a pressure shock to the system it gets stirred up and that’s when you get the brown and black water.”

Hill said the system wasn’t being flushed regularly for years because residents would experience – and complain about – brown water. But when Hill took over as Foxborough's DPW director he stressed the importance of flushing the system more regularly.

“It hasn’t been flushed thoroughly in a long time [and needs it],” Hill said.

By flushing the system periodically, it helps clear the material settled at the bottom of the pipes but that alone will not solve the town's lingering problem with brown water.

“We are trying to solve the problem over time,” Hill said. … “Over time we will cure the problem but it is going to take time to do it because it is expensive and we can’t burden the ratepayers with huge rates. They are already paying pretty hefty rates. … The first part of the solution was built about four or five years ago … Witch Pond.”

Witch Pond is a filter plant in town that helps remove manganese from the system and produce “crystal clear water,” according to Hill.

It is a combination of manganese and iron in the system that is producing brown water in Foxborough.

While the wells at Witch Pond produce clear water it is limited in its reach of the town because the two wells are low-yield.

That limitation of clear water being introduced into Foxborough's water system will change once the Oak Street wells return online after the plant is completed some time in early summer 2013.

“When Oak Street comes online again it is going to produce filtered clean water,” Hill said. “The source is bigger up there and more water comes into the system up there [than Witch Pond] so much more of our system will be getting clean water.”

Hill said when the three wells at Oak Street were taken off line three months ago to begin construction on the new Oak Street plant the system’s water flow reversed, which has contributed to brown water showing up when the town flushes the system.

“Since [Oak Street wells went offline] we have been struggling trying to bleed out the system and trying to clean up the water,” Hill said.

The town recently made the decision to stop flushing the system for the remainder of the winter, which should reduce the amount of brown water residents will see.

“We have made a tactical decision not to flush anymore this winter because of potential freeze and it’s dangerous to do it,” Hill said. “You have to flush at a high velocity and it is going to get all over the road.”

Hill said the town finished flushing for the winter about two weeks ago and while the system is “starting to clean up a little bit now” he cautions residents not to expect brown water to go away anytime soon.

“Let it never enter your mind that this [brown water issue] is going to clean up overnight because it isn’t,” Hill said. “The crud is in the pipes. It is going to take a strong flushing program but we are not going to do that until April to clean them out.”

Hill said the plan to correct the brown water issue in town includes adding a filter system at Station 1 on Pumping Station Road off Chestnut Street.

“That station will take care of four wells,” Hill said. “I have three wells at Oak Street, four at Station 1, two at Witch Pond and the three off South Street.”

Hill would rather not build a new filter plant at South Street but rather take the raw water from South Street down to Witch Pond and filter it through the Witch Pond filters.

“By that time the whole town will be on filtered water and there won’t be anymore problems with iron, rust or manganese,” said Hill.

Which means no more brown water … but the cost of the filter system plants remains the biggest obstacle in correcting the problem.

“It may take three or four years to [execute the plan] because these plants run $7.5 to $8 million,” Hill said. … “I can’t break the town replacing water pipes or treatment plants so I have to do it over time and build it into a system so the water pays for it.”

In the meantime, Hill asks for residents to be patient and understand that the water is safe.

“People complain,” Hill said. “They’re paying big rates and getting dirty water. It’s a legitimate complaint. … If they are patient it is going to clean up and it’s starting to clean up now.”

Doug December 18, 2012 at 11:57 AM
The Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL) for manganese EPA and MADEP is 0.05 mg/l, although this level is not federally-enforceable. The EPA and has also issued Health Advisory for manganese in drinking water of 0.3 mg/l. The Lifetime Health Advisory for manganese contains a precautionary statement that "for infants younger than 6 months, the lifetime Health Advisory of 0.3 mg/L be used even for an acute exposure of 10 days, because of the concerns for differences in manganese content in human milk and formula and the possibility of a higher absorption and lower excretion in young infants." MassDEP is extending that age to one year out of concerns for formula use up to that age and the potential susceptibility of this early life stage to excessive manganese exposure and potential resultant toxicity. http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/ccl/pdfs/reg_determine1/support_cc1_magnese_dwreport.pdf Although, manganese is not a federally enforceable and regulated contaminant it is believed that it might be added to the list to be studied further. I would also like to point out that installing Filters at all the wells is a great standard of practice and will lead to quality water but that the iron and manganese will remain in the old pipes and it is impossible to remove all of it with just high velocity flushing. The town needs to include plans to replace and line the older mains in addition to flushing and filtering the water.

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