Source of brown drinking water stumps Bellows Falls | Local News

BELLOWS FALLS — The persistent brown water that has made the Bellows Falls public water system unappealing for more than a month is because of elevated levels of manganese.

However, Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said Tuesday that the source of the manganese, which is above state drinking water standards, is a mystery. The village has not issued any drinking water warnings.

Manganese is a mineral element that is nutritionally essential for people in small amounts, but potentially toxic at elevated levels.

Pickup said the manganese was not coming from Minard’s Pond, the village’s reservoir, according to tests.

The water goes into the village’s water filtration plant with OK levels, but comes out of the plant with high levels. And there appears to also be a problem in the distribution system, he said.

Originally, village officials placed the blame of the brown water on the seasonal “turnover” in the open reservoir. But the problem has persisted way longer than the cooling temperatures usually cause, Pickup said.

The village has hired an engineer to try and track down the source of the manganese, but so far the engineer has been unsuccessful.

“Last week, it looked like it was getting better, but this week it’s worse,” said Pickup, who said he had brown water at his home on South Street.

Village President Deborah Wright said she also had the brown water problem, and that she was drinking the water from her faucet, with no filtration.

One resident, Michael Fredette, who has been raising concerns about the brown color for weeks, said the manganese was staining and leaving sediment behind, as well.

He said he was worried about the effect the manganese would have on his plumbing, including his hot water heater and the new plumbing fixtures he had installed.

According to the Vermont Department of Health website, elevated levels of manganese can stain your laundry, deposit scale on your plumbing and “make your water look, smell and taste bad.”

The state has set 0.3 milligrams per liter as the standard for drinking water. The state noted that manganese is naturally occurring in the earth’s crust, and thus is present in spring or well water. It is considered an essential element.

But it warns that “too much manganese can cause health issues.” Extended consumption of water containing elevated levels of manganese can lead to problems, such as neurological issues with memory, attention and motor skills.

Fredette said he had complained about the color and sediment to Chuck Wise, the town’s health officer, last year, saying he had a quarter inch of sediment in the bottom of his toilet tank.

He said every time he flushes his hot water heaters, he is “wasting water,” and also having to pay for the water.

Pickup said the water from Minard’s Pond goes through several different filters at the water treatment plant before it goes out to the village’s water customers.

But he said the color was “not consistent” throughout the village.

Pickup conceded that the manganese can stain — laundry is a particular problem area.

According to Fredette, who lives on Colony Road, “Everyone in Bellows Falls is buying water.”

Contacted after the meeting, Fredette said he wasn’t satisfied with the answers he got at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Wright also said she wasn’t satisfied with some of the explanation.

“I find it impossible to believe that they can’t determine the source of manganese inside the water plant system,” she said.

“Really, I’m very concerned about the length of time we have been dealing with manganese in the water system, and now they’re telling us it’s not coming from the pond, but from the system itself,” she said.