Customers would no longer have to endure brownish water and the risk of bacterial outbreaks would be greatly reduced under a project the Wareham Water District hopes to begin this year.
But the $5.5 million plan, which involves digging a new well and building a treatment plant to serve that well and four others, faces one more major test. On April 14, the annual district meeting will consider appropriating the remaining $2.6 million needed for the project.
Officials say they are hopeful voters will agree to a plan that would finally solve the district’s longstanding water quality issues. The district serves about three quarters of Wareham, or about 9,000 homes and businesses. The Onset Water District serves the remainder.
“We have a real problem, and unfortunately the only way to solve it is for us to make a significant capital expenditure, because it’s not going away by itself,” said Michael A. Martin, the district’s water superintendent.
One issue is the discolored water caused by manganese in the ground water that feeds the Maple Springs well field, where four of the town’s seven underground wells are located. The mineral is not considered harmful to ingest but turns water a brownish color, and customer complaints and lab tests confirm its presence in the system has been rising the past decade.
On top of that has been the problem of bacterial contamination. During the Labor Day weekends of both 2006 and 2007, officials had to institute boil water orders after the discovery of E. coli in the system.
Following the second episode, the district began a temporary policy that continues to this day of chlorinating the water to kill any potential bacteria. But bacteria has since been detected in the Maple Springs wells on a number of occasions, prompting officials to speculate that it is seeping in from nearby ground water.
While the chlorination has lowered the risk of bacteria entering the water distribution system, Martin said state officials have advised the district that the temporary system must be replaced by a permanent one that meets safe drinking water standards.
The new treatment plant, to be built at the Maple Springs well field, would solve both issues, removing the manganese and bacteria. It would also treat the water to make it less acidic, which lowers the risk of lead and copper leaching from residential pipes. The new plant will be constructed as an addition to a smaller building that now performs that function.
The proposed plant would also treat water from the new well, to be built at the Maple Park well field about a mile away. Underground pipes and electrical lines would be installed between the two fields.
The district initially only planned to build the new well and a small treatment plant to serve it, and in 2010, voters authorized $2.9 million for that project. But in light of the mounting water quality problems at Maple Springs, officials decided they needed a treatment plant for that location as well.
Rather than build two plants, they concluded it would be more cost-effective to build one larger plant to serve both locations. The $2.6 million request would cover the added costs of building that larger plant. If approved, the project would cost 77 percent of district customers about $20 per year. The others — relatively high users — would pay more.
“We recognize that our customers have got a legitimate complaint,” Martin said of the water quality issues. “And we recognize that frugality and utility needs to be part of a design. We believe this approach is the most fiscally responsible and meets our primary goals of supplying plentiful and safe drinking water going forward into the next century.”
The project has faced some significant challenges, including the need to obtain state permits for the new well and to secure property easements and acquisitions.
A local landowner also appealed the Wareham Conservation Commission’s approval of the project, contending it curtailed his ability to use his property. The litigation was recently settled. While it set back the project about a year, Martin said the dispute resulted in the landowner providing easements needed for the well fields to be connected.
Martin said construction of the new well will help the district ensure sufficient water supply for the future.
If voters approve the project, work would begin this spring and be completed by the end of 2015.John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.