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The Cumberland Water Department is in the process of activating a new water source, upgrading its infrastructure.

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland Water Department is in the final stages of activating a new water source, the next milestone in the department’s efforts to upgrade its infrastrucutre.

Cumberland Water Department Supt. Bill Descoteaux said that before officials are able to officially activate new wells at Franklin Farm, they need to pass a corrosion control study to confirm that the water from the wells won’t have a bad reaction to the water currently in the system.

“One of the requirements is that a corrosion control study be performed and reviewed by The Department of Health,” Descoteaux said. “The basic purpose of this study is to determine how the new source water will react with the distribution system and other sources of water we currently use, such as Pawtucket Water, Woonsocket Water, and our other different well sites.”

Once the data is analyzed, Descoteaux said that they plan on activating the wells as a water source.

“I would like to be able to give an exact date as to when we will start up Franklin Farm, but it would be irresponsible,” Descoteaux said. “The priority is to deliver safe potable water to the residents of Cumberland; we are working with The Department of Health to ensure this happens.”

The Cumberland Water Department is continuing with the long-term process of upgrading underground transmission lines. In 2019, workers completed phase one of the Diamond Hill Road project, covering the main transmission line from Nate Whipple Highway south to I-295. This year they completed phase two of the project, covering I-295 south to Marshall Avenue.

“The main transmission lines that connect the distribution system are being replaced so the idea is to start with the main lines and once those are complete then take care of the branches, which are the smaller little neighborhoods and plats off of them,” Descoteaux said. “It’s going to improve water quality; it’s going to give us a more reliable distribution system.”

The pipes the department is replacing are currently made out of asbestos cement, but will be replaced by ductile iron pipes. Descoteaux stated that the old infrastructure pipes tend to hold onto debris whereas the new one’s will automatically create cleaner water.

“Cumberland had quite a bit of development in the ’50s so the pipes are getting to the end of their service life and so that is going to be an ongoing project for quite a while,” he said. “As water mains get to the end of their life, we have more frequent breaks in them and also there is more build-up on the inside of the main, which contributes to the dirty water and the issues of that nature.”

He said the water quality from the older pipes still has to pass the same tests as the water in the newer pipes, so it does not make the water safer, just easier to get to a safe place.

“When I talk about the water quality in this particular case it’s more aesthetically, in terms of quality, like the safety of water, that standard has to be met every single day,” he said.

Descoteaux said that with the new pipes, the flushing of the iron and manganese out of the pipes will not take as long, making operations more efficient.

Descoteaux, who replaced former Water Supt. Chris Champi after Champi left a year ago, says there’s no way to estimate when all of the 1950s and 1960s piping in town will be replaced

“There really is no completion date, this is going to be ongoing, the way it went into 50 years and over the next 50 years it will be replaced, or probably more accurately, 60 years,” he said. “As time goes on, as pipes reach the end of their service life, it’s constantly being replaced.”

By his estimates, about two-thirds of the piping in the ground was installed in the 50s and 60s and is nearing the end of its life. Priorities for what gets upgraded are always changing, he said, as seen with the recent decision to replace the lines under Meadow Brook Drive before repaving happens there.

The asbestos concrete pipes are not bad pipes (asbestos is dangerous in dust form, but fine carrying water), but as with the rest of New England, they’re susceptible to iron and manganese deposits from the well source that settle in the pipes. The rust-colored water is not from the pipes themselves, he said, and is not harmful. Most of the steel ductile piping is lined with concrete so water is not in contact with steel.

Telltale signs of issues indicating that pipes might be ready to be replaced include leaking water services and an occasional water break, as seen on Meadow Brook. The goal with bigger neighborhood jobs such as this one is is to upgrade the infrastructure before the road surfaces are repaved “so we’re not in there year after year,” said Descoteaux.

Cumberland is addressing some of its major water infrastructure needs, said Descoteaux, including Franklin Farm wells replacing Sneech Pond as a water source, wells at Schofield Farm now in the works, the glass-lined steel Fisher Road water tank in Ski Valley being replaced, and the Diamond Hill water line project being completed.

We’re moving forward,” said Descoteaux.

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