Q: The news story on Channel 5 has rejuvenated interest in the water leaks that the DPW has been working to correct. What is the current status of the leaks?
A: Hopefully you've been able to follow this story over the past several years while the Selectmen, DPW Director, Water Department and I have worked on this issue, including several long Board of Selectmen meetings where we encouraged residents to ask questions.
Let me talk about the Channel 5 report. I agreed to be interviewed for that report for two reasons, I'm confident that we have made tremendous progress towards improving the water department and because the Selectmen and I have always and will continue to be open with all of our challenges and issues that we are trying to resolve. You may have noticed that no other towns were willing to be interviewed for this story
Like most news stories in today's media only several sentence fragments were used out of an interview that went on for 20 - 25 minutes. Several people have commented on my reference to a "cocktail" and that we have inadvertently contributed to this problem.
The "cocktail" that I spoke of was a term that one of the consultants had used last year during a presentation to the town at a Selectmen's meeting. The cocktail consists of a combination of the makeup of the raw water, the PH level of the water and the sequestering agent that we were using to address raw water impurities such as iron and manganese. After reviewing the information from our consultant as well as a report of the American Water Works Association "AWWA" that was published in March 2008 the DPW proposed changes to our water treatment to the Department of Environmental Protection. The changes would address one of the possible contributing factors to the pin hole phenomenom.
The report that was published by the AWWA can be found on the AWWA website, http://apps.awwa.org/WaterLibrary/showabstract.aspx?an=JAW_0066132. The report references the many different contributing factors of pinhole leaks including "microbial activity, material imperfections, cabonaceous manufacturing residues on the pipe surface, stray currents, soldering flux and other factors. As is apparent from these different theories, no single best theory has emerged, and each theory has weaknesses that illustrate the complexity of localized copper corrosion. Some of the discrepancies in these theories may be associated with differences in experimental approaches among electrochemical, bench scale, and full-scale observations.
Most likely, pitting has multiple causes, and no single all-encompassing theory would be applicable."
The level of PH and amount and type of sequestering agents that we use is all highly regulated by the DEP. Any changes that we make are only after we receive approval from the DEP. We, as is every public water supply, are required to report on a regular basis the results of our water quality tests.
During this time we were working to fix the leaks that already existed. Some people, including the Channel 5 reporter, have asked why doesn't the town pay for the repairs. This is something the Selectmen considered but ultimately decided that it wouldn't be fair fo the rest of the water takers. The Water department is run as an "enterprise fund" meaning the revenues from the water bills pay for the water department expenses. Taxes do not contribute to the water department budget. So one way of looking at the question of should all water takers pay for the repairs on a single homeowner's property? The Selectmen reviewed other town policies and questioned several association groups and all of our consultants and engineers. We could not find a single instance when a town or water department
paid for the repairs on homeowner property. The Selectmen were concerned for the people who had these sudden, unanticipated repairs so they decided to create a funding mechanism that would allow homeowners to pay for their repairs over 5 - 10 years.
While we worked to repair all of the leaks as quickly as possible, we needed the homeowners to participate in the repairs. In some circumstances homeowners were reluctant to make repairs and didn't respond to our requests. These leaks, that went unrepaired for upwards of a year, leaked 1,000s to 10,000s of gallons per day. Multiply that by the number of open leaks and we had a huge unaccounted for water problem. Eventually we were able to get all of the homeowners on board with making their repairs and as of today only have two repairs that need to be made, and those are scheduled to be repaired.
We have established a program of leak detection twice per year and have recently been awarded a $15,000 grant by the DEP for assistance in leak detection and we are mandated under the DEP water withdrawal permit to limit our unaccounted for water at industry standards of 10 - 16%. Obviously we are looking to make that number as low as we can so that we can continue to lower our expenses.
Finally, someone asked why aren't we working on alternative water sources. We are. We've just completed a master plan that was presented to the Selectmen. Water sources is the main topic of the report and we present many different options. We've added two sources over recent years that were approved by Town Meeting. These were additional wells near our two existing wells. Unfortunately we are also slowly losing one of our older sources. It has been going through a period of reduced water production requiring us to take it off line and perform maintenance. This returns it to high production for a while, but each time we go through this cycle it more rapidly returns to slower production. We are currently exploring a new site, we will conduct some test drilling and we are also working on
intertown agreements with all of our abutting towns.