Al Bangert, DPW DirectorThe video starts innocuously enough, rusty-looking water gushing out of an above- ground pipe. But soon, the water turns dark, thickens, and starts to look like sludge.
Shown during a Scituate selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, the video shows what a typical pipe cleaning looks like of Scituate’s more than century-old water pipes, which have iron and manganese growths, called tuberculation, all along the inside.
When disrupted, as during a water main break, fire hydrant flushing, or (in a more severe) pipe cleaning, the sentiment gets dislodged, ending up in people’s laundry, showers, and taps all over town.
“When one of them breaks, or when the mud gets stirred up, it goes through the whole system,” DPW Director Al Bangert said. “A break in any of these, or surge, in these pipes affects 70 percent of the town. There are some parts of town affected more often and more severely. Earlier parts of town - with the common area, along the Lighthouse Point, and along Oceanside Drive, Jericho Road, Beaver Dam - are affected most frequently.”
The result is hundreds of calls that come into Town Hall, with residents frustrated and angered that they cannot go without dirty water for any lengthy stretch of time.
According to Bangert, the cause is 33 miles of cast-iron pipe installed from the early 1900s through 1930s.
Since 2008, the city has been increasing water rates at 5 percent annually to accrue money replacing these pipes. Already the town has repaired 10 miles.
Yet with 23 miles to go, town officials want to raise rates even higher to start on the next round of pipe replacement.
“We’re trying to clean these pipes better, but even cleaning it will do a couple of years on this pipe. They will continue to grow, deposit,” Bangert said. “We’ve inherited a nasty situation.”
At the selectmen's meeting, Bangert requested that selectmen raise the rates 35 percent. The money would be enough to acquire $12.6 million, which would not only replace eight miles of cast iron pipe (costing about $1 million a mile), but would also install a manganese treatment system at one of the wells.
For the average family of four, which uses 90,000 gallons of water a year, the increase would mean a bill going from $386 annually to $520.
Because water rates are tiered depending on usage, those who use less water will see a significantly lower increase. Those that use more will see a significantly higher one.
According to Bangert, the large increase is needed mainly to build up the money necessary for these types of projects now, rather than spreading out the projects over a five-year period, as the town has done in the past.
However, selectmen were hesitant to improve the increase outright.
“That’s enormous. I know we were so low when we looked at this list…and now with this proposal we’re in the upper middle area. I support the initiative, because we definitely need it,” said Selectman Tony Vegnani. “But with difficult problems, it’s difficult to fund it, when we’re proposing all these monetary things to the town…it’s a big paycheck for the town of Scituate. We all want the pipes, no one wants brown water phone calls, I just have a problem with huge increase.”
Currently, Scituate's water rates are the second-lowest in the area, with only Plymouth's being lower.
Other selectmen were equally concerned about the price.
“I share Tony’s concerns about 35 percent. To increase anything by 35 percent is a big hit,” selectmen Chairman Joseph Norton said. “Having said that, for people who don’t have brown water…those residents that suffer with brown water 12 months a year know exactly what we’re talking about and they are saying raise it 100 percent, but 35 percent in today’s economy is a lot to put down.”
Regardless, Norton said that the issue needed to be resolved. He suggested a 17-20 percent increase rather than an all out 35 percent.
Selectman agreed to wait until the next meeting, in two weeks, to make a decision and to be able to thoroughly vet the issue with residents.