Groton Select Board discuss water treatment plans

Plans to tackle high manganese levels await DEP input

GROTON – With reports of rising levels of manganese in the public water supply still prevalent, the Water Department and Water Commission are looking to take action.

Options on what could be done to lessen the amount of the chemical in local water wells were discussed during Monday’s Select Board meeting.

The Water Department has kept an eye on the levels of manganese in recent years, having drafted plans to improve water quality after being requested by the state Department of Environmental Protection this February.

Water Superintendent Thomas Orcutt said that the cause of the rising levels is partially due to a recent drought in town, causing the water pumps at the Whitney Pond water wells to work more intensely and draw more minerals into the water supply.

The town collected samples of water from the two Whitney Pond wells over a year-long period from January 2018 to January 2019. As the DEP recommends not drinking water with manganese levels over .30 mg/L, the department found the first Whitney Pond well to have manganese levels over .30 mg/L in October 2018 and January 2019, while the second well had manganese levels over .30 mg/L in October 2018, December 2018 and January 2019. Further testing done this year found that the first well had levels over the advised limit in July, while the second well had levels over the advised limit in May and July.

While no plan has been set in stone yet, one idea the Water Commission has is to construct a treatment facility at the Whitney Pond wells to lower the levels of manganese. To cover the engineering expenses for the $7 million project, the commission is looking to transfer $150,000 of the Excess and Deficiency fund to the project. That proposal to transfer funds would be included on the town’s Fall Town Meeting warrant up for public approval.

Orcutt said that there could be rate increases to pay for the work, though he added there would be a public hearing held so the public could offer its input.

“We’re looking at phasing the construction out to minimize the impact of this,” Orcutt said. “We’re discussing the scheduling and arrangement of the draft with the DEP.”

Town Manager Mark Haddad said that he plans to meet with the DEP in Worcester later this month to discuss further details.

“There is a negotiation that has to happen with the DEP right now.” Haddad said. “Hopefully they’ll work with us on the Water Commissioners’ plan to deal with this over the next five years before they take on the full impact of the cost.”

The Select Board continuously emphasized making the development of the treatment facility as public as possible, along with concerns with whether or not the town could afford paying for this treatment along with the Water Commission.

“As much information as you can get out there on the town website about the knowledge the water commissioners have before what the increases may be in order to cover the debt service, the earlier people will be able to brace themselves rather than when they open that first bill and say, ‘Oh,’” Vice Chair Josh Degen said.

“Everything should be visible, and I’m not sure we’re doing a good job with that,” Selectman John Giger. “This is a big expense and we need to get into the financial issues.”

“We need to have a larger conversation about this at some point down the road when we have more specifics about it,” Selectman Becky Pine said.

“I’m still extremely uncomfortable with this,” Chair Alison Manugian said. “I’m concerned we’re starting down a path that’s gonna get us into trouble.”