Officials Say Discolored Water Poses No Health Threat
By: Christopher Kazarian
Last Friday residents in downtown Falmouth noticed their drinking water was discolored and there was a strange odor when they turned their faucets on.
That is when the Department of Public Works started receiving inquiries about the safety of the drinking water. More calls came in on Monday. Some even took to Facebook to complain about the look and smell of the water.
Yesterday Falmouth Water Superintendent MaryBeth Wiser wrote in an e-mail to the Enterprise that the town’s drinking water does not pose a health threat to residents.
She attributed the discoloration and odor issues to seasonal turnover of water in Long Pond, the town’s main source of drinking water. “The primary reason the water is discolored or cloudy is the presence of decomposed organic material that becomes suspended in the water,” she wrote. “This is one of several conditions that Long Pond can experience as a result of storms, rainfall or seasonal turnovers.”
She also wrote that the unseasonably warm temperatures Falmouth has experienced this fall, as well as leaves dropping from trees and making their way into the pond, also could have played a factor in impacting the drinking water.
Ms. Wiser did not provide a figure for how many households were affected, only writing that the discoloration “was predominantly in the areas surrounding Long Pond.”
Flushing The System
Since Monday crews from the Department of Public Works Water Division have been flushing the town’s water system, a technique used to remove sediment from the pipes. Ms. Wiser wrote that this has been effective in addressing the issues first reported last Friday.
The town is also minimizing the use of Long Pond, Ms. Wiser wrote, until the clarity of the drinking water improves.
Those who have an immunocompromised system or who are ill: don’t drink the water until we build a treatment plant.
DPW Director Raymond Jack
This is the latest chapter since the boil water order in June 2010 that has heightened the public’s concern about its drinking water. At that time E. coli was discovered in the drinking water, but it took town officials six days to notify the state after which point Falmouth was hit with a five-day boil water order.
Former water superintendent William R. Chapman and former water operator David A. Dietlin shouldered the blame for the delay in notifying the state and were later suspended two weeks without pay.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection hit Falmouth with a $60,000 fine this past August as a result of that boil water incident. The town also had to commit to several steps, including the purchase of a $15,000 message board to notify the public of drinking water issues, in lieu of paying an additional $29,000 to the state.
In July of this year the town’s drinking water once again tested positive for E. coli in two separate locations. Subsequent samples did not test positive for the bacteria, meaning Falmouth was not hit with another boil water order, although some residents still raised concern about the safety of the drinking water.
One of those was Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket, who placed Article 36 on the Town Meeting warrant in November, asking that town officials notify the public immediately following a positive test for E. coli, which usually takes 24 hours after analysis at the lab. Both he and Matthew J. McNamara of Childs River Road, Waquoit, argued that residents should make their own decisions at that point on whether to drink Falmouth’s water.
It was a similar argument the pair made to selectmen in October, when the board approved a protocol in which it agreed to notify the public of issues with the drinking water only after two back-to-back positive tests, a process that could take up to 48 hours.
Town Meeting shot down Mr. Finneran’s article, but not before DPW Director Raymond A. Jack warned of the inherent dangers in drinking an unfiltered surface water source like Long Pond. “Those who have an immunocompromised system or who are ill: don’t drink the water until we built a treatment plant,” Mr. Jack said at the time. “That is not being facetious. Even a notification by us or the DEP is always after the fact. Anyone, when they have an immunocompromised system, is always at risk with an unfiltered water system.”
To that end, Falmouth is taking steps to improve the safety of its drinking water. In May 2011 voters approved an $800,000 debt exclusion to undertake a filtration study of Long Pond, currently being handled by Tata & Howard of Lakeville.
Results of that study are expected to be reported to selectmen within the next month with Tata & Howard making recommendations on how Falmouth can best protect its water supply. Ms. Wiser wrote that this week’s incident will hopefully be a reminder to residents of the need for a filtration plant at Long Pond.
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