Smelly Water Poses No Health Risk, Town Official Says
By: Christopher Kazarian
On Sunday, Martha H. Cox arrived at her seasonal residence on Sycamore Street, Maravista, and noticed an unpleasant smell coming from her water faucet.
The first thing that came to her mind was that “it smelled like it did last year when the town had an issue,” she said, referring to the discovery of E. coli bacteria in the water supply that eventually led to a weeklong boil water order in Falmouth last June.
It smells so awful, she said, “I can’t even put my face near the water.” She has spoken to neighbors, who have expressed similar concerns.
“I’m not drinking it until I find out what’s wrong,” she said.
“Well, there’s nothing wrong,” Water Superintendent WIlliam R. Chapman said in a phone interview yesterday.
By its nature, Long Pond, the town’s primary source of drinking water, is subject to odor and taste issues, Mr. Chapman said.
He said he had fielded a number of calls from residents over the past week concerning the drinking water, but assured the public that recent tests have all come back fine and there are no health risks.
“We are getting complaints, but this is an unfiltered water source. All we are doing is taking it and disinfecting it so all the debris and sediment is passing through the water,” he said.
Filtering out the problem
Among the organisms in Long Pond, he said, is algae, which, when it dies, can produce odors, one possible cause for the smells that residents are detecting.
A majority of Falmouth's drinking water comes from Long Pond, which is operating under a filtration waiver.
- E. Coli Found in Water at 5 Falmouth Locations (6/18/2010)
- Falmouth Business Take Boil Water Order in Stride (6/18/2010)
- Falmouth Boil Water Order Lifted (6/22/2010)
- Algal Bloom Turns Long Pond Green (8/6/2010)
- Costs Increasing for Falmouth's Unfunded Water Projects (1/25/2011)
And while the smells are normal, Mr. Chapman suspected residents “are a little more sensitive to the odors as a result of what happened last year.”
All of this underscores the need for improving the level of treatment at Long Pond, a process that will begin with a feasibility study to look at the possibility of installing a filtration system there.
Over the past year Mr. Chapman and his supervisor, Falmouth Department of Public Works Director Raymond A. Jack, have pushed for a filtration system, something they have argued is necessary to ensure the safety of the town’s drinking water.
In April, they received the backing of Town Meeting, which approved an $800,000 request to fund a study to look at options for a filtration plant.
Last month voters threw their support behind the measure, which meant the study, funded through a one-year capital exclusion, will become a reality.
Study to begin this summer
That study will not begin until after July 1, the earliest that funds can be appropriated for the new fiscal year.
Mr. Chapman did not have a definitive start date for the study although he hoped it could be kicked off this summer.
“I assure you we will take action as soon as possible,” Mr. Chapman said. “That is one of the first things on my agenda.”
He anticipated it would take a year to conduct the study because data for every season will be needed.
“We couldn’t design a filtration plant until we have information that takes into account the conditions for summer, fall, winter and spring,” he said.
After that point, he said, there will be a range of recommendations on ways to improve the treatment at Long Pond that will first be presented to selectmen. Town Meeting and voters would ultimately need to approve any of these changes.
But until a filtration system is installed, Long Pond will continue to pose minor inconveniences to residents, from smell and taste issues, while having the potential for posing major ones, similar to last year’s boil water order.
“We don’t have the safeguards in place we could or should have, but we are making progress on a filtration plant,” Mr. Chapman said.
“We need to make sure our water supply is sustainable and we are taking steps towards that.”