Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

Water blues run brown in town taps

High water use blamed for kicking up sediment in pipes

By Judy Wakefield
jwakefield@andovertownsman.com

---- — After mowing his lawn on North Street last Saturday in 90-degree heat, Greg Brown reached for a well-deserved cold glass of tap water from his kitchen sink.

What he saw made him go “ewwwww.”

The water was brown.

He and numerous others who have been seeing their taps run brown in recent weeks can blame summer’s scorching weather in part for their water woes.

Acting Department of Public Works Director Chris Cronin said customers used twice as much water during last week’s heat wave, causing sediment to be kicked up in the pipes, which resulted in the brown water.

Normally, Andover uses 5.8 million gallons of water a day. Last Friday, July 19, at the end of a prolonged heat wave, water usage topped 12.9 million gallons, Cronin said.

Plus, a water main break on Haverhill Street paired with a leak off Lowell Street earlier this month also contributed to the sediment buildup that traveled through the town’s water pipes.

Cronin said a fall flushing program should help reduce sediment buildup in town pipes. Annual Town Meeting voters in May OK’d spending $195,000 to launch the water distribution flushing program. Water will be flushed through hydrants around town this fall during periods when water usage is typically lower.

But in the meantime, some residents said brown water has been flowing for far too long.

”We have dealt with this for over three years and it’s time to rectify the situation,” Brown’s wife, Leah, said. “It’s bad and affecting so many people.”

Last weekend, Cronin sent a public works crew to North Street to flush some lines. Leah Brown said the water at her house was good — for a day. But by Monday, July 22, it was brown again.

Leah Brown said she appreciated Cronin dispatching workers to her neighborhood on a weekend. But in a town where water bills just rose 1 percent (about $4) this month, she said she’s grown frustrated and has emailed numerous town officials for some answers.

She also included the names and street addresses of about 20 other families throughout town who share her concerns.

“The Water Department says it’s only intermittent and occasional. However, we have had brown water almost every single day for the last three weeks,” she said. “We can’t boil water for pasta, can’t shower, can’t make a cup of coffee, the kids won’t brush their teeth, we have ruined clothes in the washer, our water filters in the fridge and hot water heater have to be changed often, we have bottled water for the pets.

“How is it possible to live like this in Andover?”

Brown said while high volume is the typical response from the Water Department, that doesn’t explain why her family has been dealing with worsening water conditions for several years.

“How much longer should I tell my family, neighbors and residence that we should expect unusable water? Perhaps until the end of August when consumption decreases? Can my neighbors and I deduct these days off of our water and tax bills?” she wrote.

She also questioned why a water ban hasn’t been instituted during high-volume periods.

“It is frustrating to see all the green lawns when we do not have water to use for basic necessities,” she said.

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said he is doing what he can. He has asked major water users in town to cut back on usage as a way to help. Andover Country Club and the Town of Andover lead that list.

Leah Brown also said kids’ clothes and faces started to turn brown as they ran through a town fire truck hose at the Department of Community Services’ Fire Engine Day in The Park last week. But Fire Chief Mike Mansfield said he received no complaints about brown water at the event.

Cronin has advised anyone dealing with discolored water to run their outdoor spigots until water color returns to normal. The Public Works Water Division also requests that residents attempt to conserve water through the months of July and August, when demand is at its peak. That would include reducing lawn watering and sprinkler use when the forecast calls for rain.