Brown Water & PCE FAQ (updated 10/3/2023)
What should I do if I have brown water?
Alert the Water Department by phone or email with instances of brown water.
Phone: (508) 886-6098
We realize this may become tedious in the case of consistent discoloration but the Town can’t work to address your specific issues if we don’t know about them.
Who monitors the email@example.com email address? Is there any follow-up via email?
The inbox is monitored by the Water Department. Emails that contain a question or something that requires follow-up will receive a response. If the email is a submission of data, they do not respond.
Why do we still have brown water?
The simple answer is that there is still iron and manganese in the water infrastructure that remain in our system. What causes these minerals to show up in our water in our homes and businesses is a bit more complicated.
Here are the primary culprits:
- Water main breaks, which increase volume and stir up sediment in the system
- Increased usage during the summer months, which also increases the amount of water flowing through the pipes and stirs up sediment
- Our water source, Muschopauge Pond, is a spring fed reservoir. Every summer the Pond replenishes itself, which often stirs up existing sediment.
- Stormwater run-off, due to a significant amount of rainfall this Summer, has transported additional sediment into the pond.
- Our water treatment plant operates three filters – currently one of the filters is undergoing replacement which will be complete in the next several weeks. Filtration system operating at 2/3 efficiency places significant strain on the system.
- Water mains need to be flushed. We need to have enough water in order to flush the pipes, as well as pipes strong enough to withstand the flushing pressure, and these have been issues over the last few years.
- Some dead-end streets have a fire hydrant in the middle of the street, so the end of the road cannot be flushed.
- Buildings and homes may need to be flushed. The Water Department’s reach only extends to the property line.
- Old pipes, which contain material which discolors water and can kick up sediment
What are the short- and long-term plans to address these issues?
In 2022, Town Meeting authorized $3 million in water main improvements. The Department of Public Works has utilized this funding to address the oldest pipes and pipes that have consistently been susceptible to breaks. Public Works staff are working with Weston & Sampson, the Town’s contracted engineer, to develop a comprehensive capital plan for all of the water infrastructure.
If the Town cannot identify the source of my brown water what else can I do?
Make sure whoever manages your service line flushes the home or complex, it could be your own pipes.
What should I do if my house water filter is constantly breaking because of the amount of filtering required?
Refer to the manufacturer and / or installer of the system for professional advice. We also recommend higher quality, permanent filters that can be cleaned regularly instead of those that need replacement every few months.
Where should I send water to be tested?
The Town suggests the following testing facilities, all of which are certified by the Department of Environmental Protection:
- Alpha Analytical in Westborough
- Nashoba Analytical in Ayer
- Alpha Analytical in Mansfield
Be advised that some testing companies also work with filtration companies, so their results could be skewed to benefit those partners. You may want to inquire about this before choosing a testing facility.
What should I do once I receive the test results?
Submit results to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then send those results to our consultants, Weston & Sampson, to interpret.
What is manganese and is it dangerous?
According to the US EPA, manganese is one of the most abundant metals on the earth's surface, making up approximately 0.1% of the earth’s crust. As a result, it is naturally occurring in many surface and groundwater sources.
It is a naturally occurring element that can be found throughout our air, soil, and water. It is an essential nutrient for humans and animals but there can be health effects from overexposure.
The EPA recommends reducing manganese concentrations to 0.050 mg/L or less, though the lifetime health advisory value of 0.3 mg/L will protect against concerns of potential neurological effects.
For more information, visit https://www.epa.gov/ccl/regulatory-determination-1-support-documents-manganese
Is it an option for our town to drill wells in order to eliminate manganese from the minerals in our water?
The Town will be working with Weston & Sampson to conduct a secondary water source study. With respect to a secondary source, groundwater source (i.e., wells) is an option for the community to consider. However, drilling wells may not completely solve the issue as veins of manganese are often riddled throughout the system. If we have manganese at 100 ft, we will likely have it at 300 ft. It’s also important to note that digging deeper is not always an option due to soil conditions and production.Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) Sampling Results
Why did I receive a letter with respect to PCE?
The Water Department is required to conduct annual sampling of our water main infrastructure. If the sampling results identify substances in the water supply, we are required to notify users.
What is PCE?
Tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”) is a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing and in the aerospace industry. The chemical is also found in older water mains, which the Town in their capital improvement plans are identifying plans for replacement. Is our drinking water unsafe? Per consultation with the Water Department and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the water is safe for use.
What is the Town doing to mitigate this issue?
While the Town is working on plans and funding solutions to replace our infrastructure, we are also working with Weston & Sampson to identify solutions to “loop” the system, which means to keep consistent water flowing. In the area of sampling that had higher levels of PCE, this water main is at a “dead-end,” which means the water main terminates at the end of the street. Often at “dead-ends” any sediment or materials accumulate at the terminus of the pipe. “Looping the system would allow for the sediment or material to keep flowing and eventually flush out of the system. In the meantime, the Town flushes lines routinely, and in this particular circumstance, installed a “bleeder” of 5/gallons per minute to constantly flush the end of the line to remove any sediment or materials.
Has the Town conducted subsequent testing of the impacted areas?
Yes. Per MassDEP requirements the Town is required to notify users and conduct routine testing. Since “bleeding” the lines, the levels of PCE have dropped far below regulated levels of 0.5 UG/L.