Some Cumberland residents cry foul over taste of tap water

Some Cumberland residents cry foul over taste of tap water

CUMBERLAND – Officials insist they’re finding nothing wrong with water flowing into local homes, despite mounting complaints from residents about taste.

Some residents who have lived in town for many years say they’ve never been so put off by the taste of their water than they have over the past several weeks.

“This is the worst it’s ever been since I’ve been in town,” Dana Laverty, a New York Avenue resident for the past 15 years, told The Breeze on Monday. “It’s never tasted like dirt or mold before – just been rusty.”

Most complaints about the taste of the water over the past month seem to be coming from the southern end of town, which at this time of year gets a significant amount of water from the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, but complaints have also arisen in north Cumberland of late.

One resident posted online on Monday that the water in the area of Bear Hill Road, where Laverty lives, seems to have a “dirty” or “earthy” taste to it. Others have said the water has a distinct chlorine taste to it.

Some residents are speculating that the water line project along Diamond Hill Road might have something to do with the taste issues in the area, but Cumberland Water Supt. Chris Champi said the project has nothing to do with what people are experiencing.

Champi wasn’t theorizing on what the claimed dirty taste might be, but said those who are tasting chlorine south of Route 295, where most residents receive water from the Pawtucket Water Supply Board during the late summer, could be doing so because the PWSB is adding extra chlorine to ensure that water at lower levels and warmer temperatures meets testing standards.

Jim DeCelles, chief engineer and general manager at the PWSB, said Monday that staff reviewed chlorine data that morning and the numbers at Marshall Avenue, where the supplier transfers water over to Cumberland, are the same as usual.

“The chlorine levels leaving the plant are right on our normal target also,” he said.

All other tests have also come back clean, said DeCelles.

PWSB water, which actually comes from Cumberland, gets mixed with Cumberland water after Marshall Avenue, said DeCelles, and he’s not sure what chlorine levels Cumberland is using.

“I suspect that the chlorine is more noticeable because the water was so warm,” he said. “This cold weather should make it less noticeable, but the numbers are right where they need to be.”

DeCelles agreed that water from reservoirs is unusually warm this year, and that warmth “dries off the chlorine” as it heads through the pipes, which can certainly lead to a change in taste.

Champi said 95 percent of the water coming to Cumberland residents south of Route 295 comes from the PWSB. He said he’s not necessarily saying that the issue is with Pawtucket’s water. He said staff will test “to see what we can see,” including looking at Cumberland’s numbers. The water department has also agreed to test the water in the area of Laverty’s home.

Based on Cumberland’s water purchasing numbers, it’s clear that most water coming to south Cumberland at this time of year is coming from the Marshall Avenue pump station, said Champi. The line goes up Mendon Road and High Street to the Hines Road area.

“South of 295 is being serviced in large part by water that we’re purchasing,” he said.

The town has a well site adjacent to Route 295 off Abbott Run Valley Road, but that well represents a “very small portion” of the total water for the area, said Champi. Water is frequently tested for pH, flouride, chlorine and bacteriological, as well as coliform and E. coli, he said.

The town doesn’t send water from Sneech Pond Reservoir off Nate Whipple Highway any farther south than a sample site at Cumberland Dental at 2300 Diamond Hill Road, said Champi.

Taste typically changes a bit at this time of year because of organics in the water due to higher temperatures, said Champi. Due to unusually warm weather over the past few weeks, water is reaching 77 degrees, he said. With warmer temperatures and low pond levels, “you could end up with” the taste some residents are describing, said Champi.

The water superintendent said he continues to receive very few complaints by phone or email, with most people choosing instead to voice their displeasure on social media.

Champi said water employees completed testing earlier this summer for a resident who complained about taste, and said that resident was happy with the results.

DeCelles and the PWSB have repeatedly touted the quality of their water after a complete overhaul of the Pawtucket water plant and replacement of all supply lines. The high quality of Pawtucket’s water has been cited as one reason for a number of brewers locating in that city.

Cumberland officials are in the process of becoming more self-sufficient on water and improving overall quality of the local supply, said Champi, working to develop new wells to avoid buying water from other communities.

The PWSB serves a population of about 100,000. The retail service area includes the cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls and the Valley Falls section of Cumberland. The water resources of the PWSB consist of both surface water and groundwater within the Abbott Run watershed, a tributary of the Blackstone River. The watershed lies within the town of Cumberland and the Massachusetts towns of Wrentham, Plainville and Attleboro. The PWSB owns about 10 percent of the Abbott Run watershed.

During the summer, when demand is the greatest, Cumberland draws extra water from both Pawtucket and Woonsocket to supplement supplies.

“Your tap water may come from a variety of sources depending on where you live and the season of the year,” states the Cumberland Water Department’s 2017 annual report.

State and federal drinking water regulations require certain chemical treatments. Surface water supplies must be treated with disinfectant to prevent waterborne diseases, and potassium hydroxide to adjust the pH.