Water officials make their case for $12.5 million plant
A Wareham Water Water District workshop offered a glimpse of the debate likely to occur at the district’s annual meeting as residents fired off questions about a proposed $12.5 million water treatment plant.
The proposal, endorsed by the Board of Water Commissioners, would bring a state-of-the-art water purification plant to the district, mainly to treat high levels of iron and manganese. The latter is known to cause health issues, including neurological problems.
Lowering iron levels would reduce instances where tap water is discolored. According to water officials, the plant would lower the district’s need for chlorine, too. Officials said water that tastes and smells of chlorine has historically been a major complaint. But both would come at an increased cost to ratepayers.
According to Wareham Water Department Superintendent Andrew Reid, the new plant will go a long way toward meeting state requirements related to reducing the level of manganese in the water.
On Thursday, Reid noted that without the plant, rising manganese levels may force the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to issue a consent order, forcing the district to comply in the future.
“We have wells that have a significant amount of manganese and the state is concerned and have asked us to look at that,” said Reid.
Some audience members expressed skepticism about the price tag.
“You haven’t convinced me to vote to spend twelve million bucks. I haven’t heard an alternative,” said Charles Rowley, a West Wareham resident and consulting engineer for the Planning Board. “I hope you could convince me because I want clean drinking water like everybody else.”
Rowley said he wanted to see the district isolate what’s causing the high levels of manganese and eliminate the source. He asked why two district wells showed manganese spikes, but not the others.
According to Kirsten Ryan, a project manager with Kleinfelder, the district’s engineering consultant, the answer is unclear. It’s an issue towns across the state deal with, she said.
“The short answer is no one really knows why you get spikes in one area,” said Ryan.
Rowley suggested the district stop using the problem wells and try another source before committing to a new treatment plant.
Also discussed was a $5.5 million request to install a treatment system in the new plant. The treatment system would remove chemicals used in pesticides, defoliants, fuel additives and other chemicals from the water supply.
Known as Synthetic Organic Compounds (SOC), the chemicals have been detected at low levels in the water over the past 15 years. According to water officials: “The fact SOCs are being detected suggest a link to human activities up-gradient of the wells” including “clandestine dumping and/or agricultural activities.”
Resident Ed Pacewicz pressed Water Commissioners present for clarification on where the chemicals are originating. Board of Water Commissioner Chair Edward "Jay" Tamagini told him a nearby cranberry bog was the culprit.
In response, Pacewicz said he favored removing the chemicals with a new filtration system, but not on the district’s dime.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to clean up somebody else’s mess, specifically the bog owner's mess,” said Pacewicz, referring to a bog that borders the district well field off Maple Springs Road.
He recommended asking the grower to halt operations or have the town take the bog by eminent domain and shut it down.
“If we don’t stop the source this is a never ending problem,” said Pacewicz.
Approving the new filtration system would place it in the new treatment plant. Reid noted that if voters don’t approve the $12.5 million purification plant, then the $5.5 million filtration system would be off the table.
Reid said the filtration system would reduce potential health risks associated with the chemicals. However, it was up to voters to weigh those risks when deciding how to vote as the Water Commissioners have not provided a recommendation either way.
Reid explained how much customers could expect their bills to increase if one or both proposals are approved. The district sends bills out every six months, in which time the average customer uses 53,100 gallons of water. That bill is roughly $300. Approving the purification plant would tack on $72 to that bill. Approving both the plant and the chemical treatment system would add $108 to the bill, said Reid.
For comparison, Reid said Wareham currently ranks 206 out of 254 communities when it comes to what people pay for water, the number one ranking being the most expensive. If voters approve both items, the town would rank 65 out of 254.
The annual district meeting is scheduled for April 10, at 7 p.m., in the Wareham High School auditorium. All registered voters living in the Wareham Water District may participate.