Champi: Brown water issues due to lack of flushing

Champi: Brown water issues due to lack of flushing

CUMBERLAND – Consistent complaints about brown water this year are being attributed to the town’s decision not to conduct regular line-flushing activities in the spring.

Water Supt. Chris Champi said what he’s seeing is “definitely related to not flushing,” with people who don’t normally have issues with brown water impacted.

As with many other water systems this year, Cumberland Water held off on flushing due to concerns over manpower and a potential lack of available chemicals for replenishment during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Champi. The Pawtucket Water Supply Board, which services the Valley Falls area, has seen similar brown water issues after also foregoing standard flushing operations.

Champi said he’s often seeing spot complaints, “not necessarily a whole neighborhood,” and often near the center of a main as sediment is picked up. Two individual service line cleanings he scheduled on Monday of this week were on Pound Road and Millers Brook Drive, “totally opposite ends of the spectrum.”

Also not helping the situation is the high volume of water usage during very hot and dry weather, said Champi. The Cumberland Water Department was seeing consumption of 4 million gallons of water a day in June, levels not typically seen until August.

“We’re moving a substantial amount of water,” he said.

The brown discoloration is iron and manganese buildup, and is not harmful, said Champi. Those with concerns or who would like to schedule the Water Department to come out to investigate or clean an individual service line can call 401-658-0666.

The CWD is currently planning to run its annual flushing program in the fall once demand drops, said Champi. If flushing is done when demand is high, it makes the problem worse, he said. When flushing happens, workers try to keep it centralized to an area, but when demand is high, water “is being pumped everywhere and everyone’s going to get (the discoloration).”

Asked about the separate issue of a sometimes dirty water smell from past years, Champi said he still has his fingers crossed on that one. The town continues to use the Sneech Pond supply, as water temperatures still haven’t climbed to where they’ve been in the past. Because of a rainy spring, Sneech Pond remains quite full, he said, but he’s prepared to shut down that supply again if the issue returns in the next two or three weeks.

Further complicating the town’s water issues right now, he added, is the start of water line construction on Diamond Hill Road.

Mayor Jeff Mutter noted that there was some concern after the virus hit about trying to protect available certifications among personnel in the CWD to keep being able to provide proper service to customers. He called the brown water issues an “expected self-inflicted wound” of sorts, as officials wanted to avoid having personnel working in close quarters on flushing operations and seeing the virus sweep through the department.

“It was a management decision to protect the department and actual execution of delivering the water,” he said.