Water aplenty found in newly dug Cumberland wells, but quality results are pending

Water aplenty found in newly dug Cumberland wells, but quality results are pending

CUMBERLAND - Water Supt. Chris Champi told The Breeze this week he anticipates completely shutting down the water treatment plant on Nate Whipple Highway if test drilling for new groundwater wells is fruitful.

That would spare the 21,000 customers of the Cumberland Water Department from spending $2.5 million on state-mandated upgrades to the plant.

At the same time, water processing costs would plummet, easily offsetting the $1.8 million cost of establishing each new well, says Champi.

Champi told The Breeze the first test site, the east field of Franklin Farm on Abbott Run Valley Road, found plenty of water but no news on water quality yet. And because the water there is unusually deep, an alternate means of checking the rate of flow will be needed.

Test drilling had moved last week to the town's Schofield Farm on Nate Whipple Highway.

There the water is flowing just fine -100 gallons per minute with little drop in the water table - but water quality tests are still coming.

In another week or so, equipment will move to the last site of this testing phase, on Staples Road at the edge of Sneech Pond.

Champi concedes he's "like an expectant father" as he awaits for the results that could mean huge future savings for the Cumberland Water Department.

"Everything is premature," Champi lamented last week. "You don't know until all the pieces come back. Yeah, we have water, but now what? We're chugging along, but this is the part that kills you - waiting for results."

For example, the Franklin Farm water could prove to be high in iron, as is one of the three Abbott Run wells, making the processing prohibitively expensive.

On the other hand, all three sites could be good enough to be tapped.

That won't please volunteers with the Franklin Farm who've begged officials to keep the historic farm intact and free from any well-related construction no matter how discrete Champi promises it would be.

Meanwhile, with the state's permission, he has split the treatment plant upgrade project into segments, beginning with a $287,000 design process. And even that is spread over three budget years.

The state's goal is for Cumberland to change the way the water plant, at 98 Nate Whipple Highway, manages the residuals currently discharged into Sneech Pond after the drinking water goes through a series of cleansing steps, including four sedimentation basins.

Cumberland's Sneech Pond Reservoir and treatment plant was first authorized at a special town meeting in 1929 when $70 million was appropriated, according to Edward Hayden's "Cumberland Historical Story."

In 2011, the system was one of several water plants cited for the way it discharges wastewater from the processing system back into Sneech Pond. That's been standard operating procedure since the plant was built, Champi notes.

Sludge that settles out is trucked to a sewer plant in New Bedford at a cost of $65,000 a year.

For now, the town continues to discharge into Sneech Pond under a consent agreement signed with the Department of Environmental Management that requires Champi to test the water and submit results to the state.

Under the new $2.5 million plan, the waste material left from processing water would be discharged instead into a main sewer line in Mendon Road.

The engineering firm of Woodward & Curran was awarded the design phase of the project by the Town Council in June under a payment schedule that calls for $33,600 this year, $50,000 in 2014 and that balance of $252,500 in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

The multi-million-dollar spending comes during actual construction - if the project gets that far.

Champi said he figures if he moves slow enough, the well project will prove a success, making the upgrade project unnecessary.

"If we find enough water elsewhere, there's no need to pursue it. We're waiting with bated breath as we weigh out the options."

Cumberland consumes an average two million gallons a day, an amount that can peak to seven million on hot summer days.

At $5 per 1,000 gallons, the Sneech Pond plant is the town's most expensive water source.

The Pawtucket Water Supply Board wholesale rate is $4.65 after including the electric pump bill.

Manville wells cost just $1 to $1.25 per 1,000 gallons, as does the single well at Abbott Run. A second well should be repaired soon and put into operation.

Construction of new wells will cost in the $1.8 million range. So when debt service on the new wells is factored in, said Champi, 1,000 gallons may cost in the $2.50 range.

Looking at it on an annual basis, Champi says that for each additional 100 gallons per minute pumped from current groundwater well sources, there's a $200,000 annual savings of water that would have been purchased from Pawtucket or processed at the Nate Whipple Highway plant.

Current work to reactivate the second of three Abbott Run Valley wells will add 200 to 225 gallons per minute to the system.

Another improvement will be upgrades to the Girard Road booster station that delivers water into the system from the Manville wells. Once improved, a minimum of 100 gallons per minute more should be available, he says.

Slowing progress on the major treatment plant upgrade may not be hard considering the complicated permitting this project will need.

Besides the notoriously slow Department of Environmental Management wetlands alternation permit that's needed, CWD will require approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a construction permit, and Narragansett Bay Commission approval to discharge into a sanitary sewer. Also, the town of Cumberland and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation must sign off on the Mendon Road cut when the sewer line is attached through Canning Street.