South Deerfield water district grapples with violations, turbidity

  • The South Deerfield Water Supply District building, located on Sunderland Road, off Route 116. Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon

Staff Writer
Published: 8/31/2018 11:48:30 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The South Deerfield Water Supply District has violated several drinking water requirements, forcing it to issue to a public notice about water quality. Although there is no significant immediate danger to people’s health, the warning is about an issue that Superintendent Roger Sadoski said has him puzzled. 

Sadoski reported to the district commissioners this week that at least two people in town have reported brown water at their homes. 

The brown cloudiness, or turbidity, “may be affected by chemical reactions with manganese in our water,” the public notice states. 

The water quality itself and delays in alerting residents about it resulted in several state Department of Environmental Protection rules violations. 

The turbidity of the water exceeded allowable levels in early July, which resulted in a violation, and the district did not provide the required notice to MassDEP within the mandated 48 hours following a violation. The district also did not submit the required records and reports to MassDEP by the 10th of the following month – and did not provide public notice for the turbidity levels violation within the 30-day deadline. In addition, the district continued to fail at meeting turbidity standards in August.

By Sept. 13, the water district has to notify MassDEP about what action it will take to deal with the turbidity. There are two options, either implement a state’s suggested plan or use a plan of the district’s own, following state approval of it.  

Failure to respond to a notice of noncompliance can result in serious legal consequences, MassDEP explains in its notice to the district. 

At Monday’s regular water district meeting, Sadoski explained the problem as related to manganese and the treatment of a portion of the district’s water. 

While the public notice and MassDEP officials have said the district is on its way to solving the problem, the superintendent was less confident of an immediate solution. 

“We’ve treated it the same way for 10 years and for some reason it’s not working anymore,” Sadoski said to the water commissioners. 

The commissioners asked Sadoski to also take time to address the staffing shortfalls highlighted by a recent report by MassDEP. Commissioner Gary Stokarski told the superintendent he has to meet with the Amherst water department to arrange to share staff to address part of the state’s concerns with the South Deerfield district’s inadequate staffing. 

Sadoski reported that MassDEP’s Doug Pain told him to focus on the issue with turbidity, which he said was more important than staffing violations. 

A spokeswoman for the Western Regional Office for MassDEP, Catherine Skiba, did not confirm Sadoski’s understanding about the state’s priorities. She did issue a statement that said in part: “With respect to compliance, all aspects of operations and management must be conducted in compliance with regulatory requirements to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water to the consumer.” 

Sadoski explained MassDEP sent someone to the district to help resolve the turbidity issue. 

“He made a couple suggestions … He said, ‘I don’t know if this will solve the problem,’” Sadoski said at the meeting. “Whatever he told us, we already knew.” 

Sadoski said the issue is “more aesthetic than anything,” adding, “There isn’t a health issue at the moment.” 

Manganese is a mineral element that occurs naturally in food, water, air and soil and in small amounts is important for human health, but in large doses can harm the body, especially the nervous system in developing children.

The superintendent did note that increasing amounts of research today, including by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have stated that increased and sustained manganese levels in water if drunk at high volumes could affect the development of children. But, Sadoski said, “the manganese levels are low,” relative to those consequential levels. 

Chairman David Wells told Sadoski, “The way you described it, it doesn’t sound like that critical of a situation.” 

“In my mind, it isn’t,” Sadoski said. “But to the state, it is.” 

“They even said, it’s not a health issue,” Sadoski continued. “It’s just a standard they need to be maintained.” 

Sadoski did say he will try out the suggestions. 

The state issued several recommendations to the district about how to address the problem. 

The water district will have to “monitor raw water quality, determine if turbidity sampling method is representative of water in the distribution system and if treatment processes require adjustment,” Skiba said in a statement. 

The South Deerfield Water Supply District is currently under investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and was issued a subpoena for documents in early May. The district has discussed with its lawyer potential litigation, but has not explained what the probe is about. Neither has the AG’s office.



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