HWW Housatonic Water Works sign 2022
The headquarters of Housatonic Water Works on Maple Avenue in Great Barrington. Photo by Terry Cowgill.

Housatonic Water Works hires consultant who worked on Flint, Michigan, water problems

After a yearslong saga concerning discoloration and contamination of its water supply, Housatonic Water Works has hired Northeast Water Solutions president Robert Ferrari as a consultant to deal with its ongoing problems with manganese in its system.

Great Barrington — Housatonic Water Works (HWW) has hired a consultant to deal with its ongoing problems with manganese in its system.

The company revealed the hiring of Northeast Water Solutions president Robert Ferrari at a virtual informational meeting on June 16. Ferrari said he was previously hired by the state of Michigan to be an expert consultant on the nationally reported water quality issues occurring in Flint, Michigan. The meeting was led by HWW treasurer Jim Mercer.

See CTSB video of the Housatonic WaterWorks June 16 virtual informational meeting:

 

Ferrari said at the meeting that HWW has hired his company to provide a proposal for engineering services, along with the development of a manganese treatment system and a pilot plant program.

“I would like to let everyone know that we share your concerns with the situation that we have with manganese, and we thank many of the customers who reached out to us and offered support during these very challenging times,” Mercer said at the beginning of the meeting. “The water is safe to drink, and it meets the standards. The concern, of course, is the color and I know some people are averse to drinking it. And I don’t blame them. We are working on a proper approach to rectify that.”

Long Pond, which functions as the reservoir for Housatonic Water Works. Photo courtesy of HWW.

Ferrari said that the program, which will operate anywhere from two to four weeks, would involve the installation of equipment that would be installed temporarily in the existing treatment facility that would evaluate the raw water quality, and the performance of the existing treatment process, and the finished water quality.

The equipment for the pilot plant program would be small-scale, but would eventually lead to a full-scale system. Ferrari added that plans for the pilot plant program have been submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

When an attendee asked Mercer if the manganese treatment would mean a rate increase for HWW customers, he replied, “At this point, this will all be packaged as part of a rate increase of whatever monies we spend on the manganese treatment. There will be no immediate cost to ratepayers at this point, but will be packaged going forward.”

Meanwhile, in a June 23 letter to customers, which was posted on the company’s website, the company informed residents that during the second quarter of this year, their water system exceeded the maximum contaminant level for HAA. According to the company, the locational running annual average (LRAA) from August 2021 through May 2022 was 72 parts per billion (ppb). MassDEP’s maximum contaminant level standard for HAA is 60 ppb.

Despite this, the company’s letter stated that “this incident was not an emergency.” According to a news release posted on the company’s website, the company said that the HAA average is taken from four test results over the past year.

In August 2021, the HAA test results showed that the system had 103 ppb, 74 ppb in Nov., 61 PBB in Feb., and 50 ppb in May. The company indicated that the second-quarter average was expected due to the “atypical high result from the third quarter of 2021.”

Possible town action

The selectboard will hold an executive session to discuss Housatonic Water Works at its next meeting scheduled for Monday, July 11 at 6 p.m.

At the board’s regular meeting on June 27, Town Manager Mark Pruhenski did not say if the board would be taking any action concerning the company after the executive session.

The scheduled executive session is the latest step that the town is taking in the yearslong saga concerning the long-troubled company. For quite some time, customers have complained about HWW’s deferred maintenance, along with discolored water, and pressure in fire hydrants that would be insufficient to fight a fire.

A bathtub being filled with water from Housatonic Water Works. Photo: Thaddeus Biernacki, as posted on the Housatonic residents v HWW Facebook page.

In November 2020, a study by Cornwell Engineering Group of Newport determined that higher-than-normal levels of manganese entering the system from the Long Pond reservoir has been causing the company’s water supply to be discolored.

In July 2021, infrastructure consulting group AECOM presented an infrastructure appraisal to the selectboard recommending an upgrade to the water treatment system and the replacement of 66,000 water mains, which would cost $31 million.

At a board meeting last October, Pruhenski laid out several potential scenarios for the town to acquire HWW, but he said it could take the town several months to years to acquire the company.

In November, HWW treasurer Mercer announced that the company created a pilot study plan for a new ultrafiltration membrane treatment system.

In January, the company announced that after reviewing an analysis of their drinking water, it violated a drinking water standard when it discovered their water exceeded the standards of haloacetic compounds, known as HAA5. The acid compound could cause cancer in those who ingest it for extended periods.

In late January, MassDEP determined that the company’s study was inadequate and that it needed to submit to the department an engineered plan within six months on how it would prevent the violation in the future.

Over time, angry customers have mobilized and petitioned Gov. Charlie Baker to take over the company by eminent domain.

In early June, the company announced that it would not compensate their customers for poor water quality.

The company serves 824 customers and roughly 1,400 users in the Housatonic section of Great Barrington.