Scituate selectmen said they will look into spending approximately $22 million to replace almost two dozen miles of aging pipe to address worsening water quality.
The decision comes after a tense meeting with angry residents Tuesday night, and after weeks of brown water coming out of taps all around town.
“People’s frustration is high this summer,” said DPW Director Albert Bangert. “We’ve had three back-to-back incidents, it appears like [brown water] has been going on since the Fourth of July.”
To start the replacement process, selectmen increased rates 10 percent at their Tuesday night meeting to help pay for an engineer.
From there, the town hopes to determine exactly how many miles of pipe need replacing. Money for the replacement would come in the form of a $22 million override request or an increase in rates, a decision that will be made in January.
“We’re projecting that it is probably going to take three years to fix all 22 miles of pipe.
But we don’t know for certain, that’s why we want to hire an engineering firm to confirm the length of time and what we’ve projected we need to fix,” said Selectman John Danehey.
The pipe problem deals with iron and manganese growth inside of pipes constructed prior to 1935. The minerals, naturally found in water, build up over time and cause a phenomenon called tuberculation.
Whenever the stream of water is disrupted, the minerals break off and swim in the water, causing the brown color.
This summer, the issue has been particularly bad. A fire in Scituate needing hydrant water caused unexpected pressure to disrupt the particles. The town also opened up several gates within the water system to help with pressure problems. That only added to the distress.
Coupled with the higher demand of an additional 12,000 residents summering in Scituate, and an electrical outage at the Water Treatment Plant on July 15 that also disrupted water pressure, brown water has been pervasive.
“I think it’s the worst I’ve ever known it to be,” Danehey said, noting he could count more the times he hasn’t had brown water than the times he has.
Though officials say the brown water is safe to drink, the issue is an annoying. Showering in the water leaves grit on the skin; doing laundry can stain clothes. For those willing to drink the water, it can taste metallic.
The town has long attempted to solve the problem, replacing over six miles of problematic piping in the last five years.
Selectmen hoped to continue solving the problem bit by bit, but the summer’s events have hammered home the need for a more drastic approach.
“What I’ve found just this summer is our efforts have had little to no effect given the number of brown water incidents we’ve had,” Danehey said. “Now we have to take a drastic approach, which means doing the whole system and fixing it. My hope is we would lessen it and little by little chip away, but after the incidents of this summer, that’s not working. We need to revaluate and come up with a more grandiose larger plan to fix it.”
In the meantime, residents are worried. Selectmen said they were barraged by frustrations at the Tuesday meeting, and concerns have continued to amount.
Selectmen, too, freely admitted that they don’t drink the brown water.
Yet Bangert said the criteria for water testing is more stringent for towns than it is for bottled water.
The testing process is also expansive and detailed, occurring daily and weekly at all the town’s wells, the treatment plant, and at various “end of the line” locations selected by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Reports are given weekly to the state.
“It can have a metallic flavor,” Bangert said, but the water is assuredly safe. “My wife chooses to filter hers through a Brita filter. I drink it out of the tap. Frankly, if it’s Coca- Cola colored, I’m not going to drink it. If you have concerns, don’t drink it. Get bottled water.”