It’s going to be some time, but Kent County Water Authority customers won’t be faced with the stains left by manganese in years to come.
That should be good news to Michael Hackett of Love Lane and other Cowesett residents who have done what they can to rid the black residue from their appliances, not to mention the water they drink.
Hackett has been using filters to purify what flows from the tap. In frustration, he called the Beacon last Thursday to report he had removed a filter thick with black goop. As he was on the phone, a Kent County Water Authority vehicle arrived at his home and a staff member checked his water and flushed the lines in his home.
But that’s not going to cure the manganese problem, says Timothy Brown, manager of the water authority. Manganese is a naturally occurring mineral in area well water and does not pose a health risk, said Brown.
He explained water customers have seen an increase in manganese as well as iron, which leaves reddish stains, in the past several weeks because of a hydrant issue in Potowomut. The iron is from older non-lined iron pipes. With the high volume of water released, build-up of manganese and iron on the inside of pipes flaked off into the water stream. To address the condition, Brown said, the authority initiated its annual flushing of lines earlier than usual. In addition, the authority is adding compounds to its water to “sequester” the manganese. The process of sequestering doesn’t remove the manganese but keeps it in a dissolved state so that it doesn’t stain or leave a residue.
Hackett, who owns rental properties outside of the area served by Kent County, said he hasn’t experienced the manganese elsewhere.
“There’s something wrong with that water,” Hackett said.
He’s tried to address the manganese with filters. They work, but when he pulled one out after having been replaced in the last three weeks, it was black as tar and he called the authority.
Surprisingly, Brown doesn’t recommend the use of filters. He said unless handled with sterile gloves and properly installed they can contaminate the system.
To illustrate how sensitive the testing of the water is, he said in replacing a 1,000-foot section of pipe, a single blade of grass contaminated the water. In that case the section had to be flushed and retested before it could be brought online.
In following up complaints about water discoloration, Brown said, the first question is whether it is hot or cold water. If the discoloration is limited to the hot water, Brown said it’s a sign that “the hot water tank has reached its life.” If it’s present in both hot and cold water, the authority will test the water and flush the system. They did that in Hackett’s case and will debit his account for the water used for flushing. They will also check the service lead for leaks, as Hackett believes he is being charged for more water than he’s using.
In 90 percent of water usage complaints, Brown said, the leak is traced back to a faulty toilet.
With 27,000 customers, the authority devotes one man to responding to calls about possible leaks and discoloration. There should be fewer calls in the future, however.
In an effort to develop greater water resources, the authority brought online a $2.5 million well and well house in the last three months in Warwick near the East Greenwich-North Kingstown line. The well has the capacity of 2 million gallons a day but is running at about half that volume at this time. To come next at the same location will be a treatment plant estimated to cost $10 million. The plant, he said, would be capable of removing the manganese as well as other minerals, although it won’t remove all minerals.
The timing of the treatment plant has been finalized, as it is dependent on the authority’s ability to finance the project.
Brown explained that the board has targeted the retirement of its $22 million in debt – a combination of bonds and its capital program – by 2023. Currently, the authority is setting aside $6 million annually in infrastructure funds, money targeted for capital improvements.
“The board’s position is that it’s more economical for the authority to go on a cash basis,” he said. He said with the elimination of the cost of borrowing that, “in the long run they [the customers] will pay less.” Furthermore, he doesn’t see any additional needs that would pressure major rate increases.
Since the authority is now purchasing water from the Providence Water Supply in addition to water it has from its own wells, including the new one, it is susceptible to Providence wholesale rate increases. The aim is to decrease dependence on resources the authority can’t control.
“We feel we can produce water cheaper,” Brown said.
And if the plan works not only may the rates hold, albeit at this time they are nearly twice what water users on the city system pay, the water won’t leave telltale stains of manganese.