The Oak Bluffs water district is working toward implementation of a permanent chlorination system at the Lagoon Pond well after samples taken there more than two weeks ago revealed high counts of bacteria. Temporary chlorination of the entire water supply is currently under way as a precautionary measure.
The contaminated Lagoon Pond well was shut down in June, bringing an end to a two-day town-wide boil water order. But the district is looking to reopen the contaminated well as soon as possible because it provides a large portion of the town’s water, officials said. Under normal circumstances the Lagoon Pond well produces about one-fifth of the water supply in the town. “We can’t go through the whole summer,” without the well, said Larry Bombara, consultant to the water district. “Once Illumination is here, once the Obamas are here and the Clintons are here, we are going to need number one online,” he said.
At a meeting last Wednesday, Oak Bluffs Water District commissioners discussed implementing a 4-log disinfection and chlorination system at the well to hedge against future boil water orders, two of which have occurred in the past four years and were caused by contamination at Lagoon Pond.
The Department of Environmental Protection said it will authorize temporary chlorination of Lagoon Pond water for 120 days while the district and consulting engineers review the feasibility of the disinfection system and secure the required permits.
Permanent chlorination of the well could cost about $20,000, according to water district superintendent Paul Provost. The 4-log system is worth the cost if it can help prevent another boil water order, Mr. Lombara said. Poland Springs charged the district $27,000 for emergency water supplies in late June. In addition, the district had to pay the sheriff’s department and the fire department to help guard and hand out supplies.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency does not provide funds for a boil water order.
In terms of cost, Mr. Bombara called the permanent disinfection a “no-brainer,” because it would effectively prevent a boil water order from happening again.
The water district also looked at digging another well, but said that was not a feasible option in the short term as it can take as many as seven years to do so.
“I think it would be in our best interest as of now to pursue a system of chlorination, at least at that well, forever,” said water commissioner Michael deBettencourt. That decision would make Oak Bluffs the first community on-Island to permanently chlorinate town water.
“It’s really an anomaly to find [towns] that don’t chlorinate,” Mr. Bombara said.
Recent tests of the water at Lagoon Pond have come back clean, but the district has yet to isolate the specific wellhead within the well causing contamination. One possible cause is a rupture in the pipes that run underwater, said Mr. Bombara. Normally, a leak in a pipe would suck air into the water stream, but when the water table is particularly high, like it was in June, the pond water can leak into the water supply. The boil water order issued in June was costly for business owners, forcing them to purchase bottled liquids and ice.
During that time Mocha Mott’s on Circuit avenue imported coffee products from their other location in Vineyard Haven, driving back and forth between the two towns. The employees used hand sanitizer to wash their hands.
Those at the Slice of Life restaurant didn’t hear about the order until 1:30 p.m., when somebody walked in and handed a piece of paper to the hostess. Peter Smyth, who has owned the business for five years, said he would have liked to receive a personal phone call explaining what was going on.
“It makes you look bad,” to customers, he explained, when you don’t have a full explanation of why you are charging them for water. He described the Reliable Market grocery store as a “mob scene” when he went to pick up bottled drinks. He purchased ice from Cash & Carry in Vineyard Haven.
“I don’t understand after the last time [in 2009] why we weren’t more prepared with our notifications, why we weren’t able to communicate better,” he said. While Oak Bluffs businesses struggled to cope with the situation, Mr. Smyth said, Edgartown profited.