The Tri-Town was delivered a jolt last week when news came down that E. coli bacteria had been found in the drinking water supply of Mattapoisett River Valley Water District member towns.
Following a prescription of flushing, system chlorination, and further testing, the MRV is hoping by the end of Friday, October 15, to achieve three consecutive days of clean results on the premise that it would be the magic number to trigger approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection to lift the boil water order that has been in place in Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, and a small patch of Rochester since October 6.
Tuesday afternoon’s scheduled meetings of the MRV Water District Commission and Water Protection Supply Advisory Committee were scrapped in favor of one emergency meeting to update and discuss the current crisis.
In an update to commission members, Henri Renauld, the superintendent for the Town of Mattapoisett Water Department and the vice-chairman of the MRV Water District, updated the October 7 public service announcement he had read on ORCTV.
Renauld told the commission on October 12 that, per the DEP, repeat samples were collected on October 7 that came back on October 8, finding that the MRV water treatment plant tested a clean zero for total coliform and zero for E. Coli bacteria. Although Mattapoisett’s upstream and downstream samples were also clear, Fairhaven and Marion still had E. coli positive samples in their second round of testing.
Marion DPW Engineer Meghan Davis told the commission that the town is awaiting results expected on October 13 and is working with the DEP.
Fairhaven DPW Superintendent Vinny Furtado, also the commission chairman, compared Fairhaven’s situation and said that staff continues flushing and chlorinating all week long. “We have to have three consecutive [tests] of no E. coli in order to remove t e boil-water order,” he said.
The source of contamination remained unknown at press time.
Given the fact that the MRV had a positive sample at the entrance of its water treatment facility on September 17, the same day that the Tinkham Lane well was taken offline, provides a clue but falls short of a conclusion pending further tests. The well, still out of service, is scheduled this week for excavation and repairs, after which going back online will become subject to DEP approval.
Initial signs of a problem were detected on September 14 when samples collected by the Town of Fairhaven at its raw water well at Tinkham Lane revealed a positive E. coli concentration, according to Renauld, who also noted that the MRV District had not had a boil water issue since the mid 1990s.
“To take precautions, even though this sample was from a raw, untreated source, the Town of Fairhaven immediately took this well out of service and it is still out of service now,” announced Renauld on October 7. “At the time, they also collected additional samples from the district … system. Unfortunately, one sample at one location revealed an E. coli positive, which was subsequently resolved. And they had to issue the boil order per the conditions that are required by the state.”
The Town of Mattapoisett also took routine samples on September 14 and found that two locations within the distribution system were total coliform positive.
“We took six repeat samples at these locations, and all were absent of total coliform,” said Renauld, noting that the latest round of samples collected on October 5 resulted in positive E. coli results in Mattapoisett, Marion, and Fairhaven, as well as the MRV water treatment facility. As of October 6, Fairhaven, Marion, and Mattapoisett issued a boil water order as required by the DEP.
Rochester, but for 250 residences on Marion water, escaped the crisis. “The rest of the town, except for a few … the rest of the town is on wells,” said Water Commission Chairman Fred Underhill, who said a reverse 911 call went out to Rochester residents. Rochester homes around County Road and Route 28 near the Wareham line are on Wareham water.
In referencing daily, weekly, and bi-weekly routine water testing performed by MRV District communities at numerous locations, Renauld said that corrective measures were being taken by each community by the time he recorded his October 7 public service announcement.
The day after Marion’s October 6 press release, Cumberland Farms at Routes 105 and 6 in Marion and Friends Market in Rochester village were out of gallon jugs of water. Friends, which was down to one 24-pack of smaller bottles, had just made its order from its New Hampshire supplier before the boil order came down.
In an October 6 press release, Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson announced that five of the six ORR district schools were affected by the contamination. Rochester Memorial School uses well water.
Nelson said the five affected schools will follow all directives of town, state, and public health officials relating to the warning in regards to facilities work and food operations. Bottled water and hand sanitizer is being made available for students at the affected schools. All water that will be used for cooking or drinking will be boiled before use. Additionally, drinking fountains and water refill stations will also be closed at the affected schools until the warning is lifted.
“Our food services staff will follow the guidance provided by town officials, including discarding food or beverage items in accordance with their directives, as well as boiling public water used in our day-to-day food services operations,” ORR Director of Food Services Jill Henesey said in ORR’s press release.
Renauld advised viewers of his PSA to boil cooking water and water used for brushing teeth and drinking. He advised that any recently made ice should be discarded but said people can shower without boiling the water.
Meantime, there is concern among the membership after a private water-purification company began an aggressive, door-to-door and social-media campaign offering free water testing. The company sells water-purification systems. MRV leadership made it clear that state and federal regulators offer reliable information and asked legal counsel Blair Bailey to observe the activity of the private company for the protection of homeowners.
Paul Howard of MRV-retained consulting engineering firm Tata & Howard suggested two more weeks of additional chlorination, even if the district achieves three consecutive days of clean samples. Renauld agreed, saying, “It’s too easy to miss one small section if we don’t get a residual out somewhere.”
Tata & Howard is overseeing the MRV plant’s transition to Koch Systems’ new Puron filtering technology, and Howard said it makes no sense to spend the money for the facility upgrade if it does not include the very latest technology being used elsewhere in the country to prevent the spread of a future E. coli contamination.
On Sunday, Marion sent out notice on the updated testing schedule for October 12, 13, and 14, announcing that the dates are requirements as listed in the boil water order issued by the DEP, and said communities will be notified of the results.
The Town of Marion enacted a hotline for homebound residents and seniors to request a free delivery of bottled water by calling 508-748-3072.
The MRV set up a special 3:30 pm meeting for Friday, October 15, and plans to hold its regular meetings of the Water District Commission and Water Protection Supply Advisory Committee on Tuesday, October 19, at 3:30 and 4:00 pm.
By Mick Colageo