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Despite fix, dirty water still flows in Woburn

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / March 22, 2012
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Woburn officials say the city’s water system has been significantly improved through a multiyear upgrade, but they acknowledge that some residents are not seeing the benefits.

“I clearly think that it’s been a good investment and it will pay dividends in the future,’’ Mayor Scott D. Galvin said of the $25 million the city has spent over the past five years to overhaul its aging water infrastructure

The work, funded through a $33.5 million bond authorized by the City Council in 2007, has included overhauling and expanding the water treatment plant at the city’s Horn Pond well fields, and replacing a water tank that is more than 50 years old, projects that were completed last year.

It also involved cleaning and relining 15 miles of old cast-iron pipes in a five-year effort.

That work was set to end last year, but was extended another year using funds that became available due to the overall water improvements coming in under budget.

Officials say the projects have collectively improved drinking water quality, notably by removing the minerals - iron and manganese - that have caused the discoloration many residents have experienced.

But even as they applaud those benefits, officials concede that water-quality issues persist for some households.

At a March 12 public meeting on the water improvements, a number of South End residents complained that even with all the improvements, the water discoloration problem they have experienced for so many years persists.

City engineer Jay Corey said that since the treatment plant has gone on line, “we’ve noticed a tremendous reduction in discolored water throughout the system.’’

But he said he understood the sentiments of residents who continue to have problems.

“It’s like if you turn on the light and the light bulb doesn’t come on. You turn the water on and it’s still dirty,’’ he said. “It’s completely frustrating.’’

“They definitely have a legitimate concern. We take every complaint seriously,’’ Galvin said, adding that the city is committed to doing whatever it can to address their lingering problems.

Corey said that part of the remaining water discoloration should be cleared up when water mains are flushed next month. He said while nearly all the iron and manganese is now filtered from water entering the system, there is still a residue in the pipes that needs to be flushed out.

The city did not carry out its regular flushing last year, concluding that it would be more effective to do so after the treatment plant came on line, Corey said.

He said some households also may have specific problems causing their discoloration and that the city is trying to solve those on a case-by-case basis.

As an example, some people have a heavy build-up of iron and manganese in the pipes connecting their homes with the mainlines on the street, a problem that can be fixed by flushing out the pipe.

Corey is urging residents who are experiencing problems to contact the city for a resolution.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Rosa DiTucci, who represents about half of the South End, said the March 12 meeting was a good opportunity for her and her constituents to bring public awareness to the problem of persistent dirty water.

“It’s not a little dirty. It’s very dirty,’’ she said. “Some people have been running water 15 or 20 minutes every time they want to brush their teeth or make coffee. . . . People who want to do a load of white laundry, many times they have to fill the bathtub to make sure it’s not brown.’’

DiTucci said she believed the city could have alleviated the problem by flushing the lines last year and by following through on its plan to eliminate closed loops in the system.

But she credited the Department of Public Works with doing a “phenomenal job’’ in the past month, responding to complaints and attempting to address them.

The $12.5 million upgrade to the water treatment plant involved construction of a 7,000-square-foot addition to the plant and an adjacent similarly sized treatment support building that is used for chemical injection and storage. The addition includes filters that enable it to now also remove the iron and manganese content of the water, and the plant will use ultraviolet disinfection to remove bacteria.

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