EAST LYME — The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday approved a resolution to bond an additional $950,000 to construct and upgrade filtering for two of the town’s wells, one of which has repeatedly shown discolored water with iron and manganese. This would raise the total amount appropriated for the project to $5.59 million.
At a January special town meeting, East Lyme voters approved bonding for up to $4.64 million for this project. The additional $950,000 requires approvals by the Board of Finance and at an additional town meeting.
“We really need to move forward with this project,” Town Public Works Director Joseph Bragaw told the selectmen at their Wednesday night meeting. “The water discoloration is a big issue. You hear about it on social media. Every time there’s a fire in this town and they open a hydrant or there’s a water main break it stirs up all the manganese that’s in the system.”
The planned upgrades would help to remove iron and manganese naturally present in the town’s Well 1A (which is located near East Lyme Middle School) by connecting that well to Well 6 (which is near Lille B. Haynes Elementary School) and expanding the Well 6 Water Treatment Plant.
In the past year, the Connecticut Department of Public Health tightened regulations on allowable levels of manganese in drinking water, requiring water providers to notify customers if manganese levels exceeded .3 milligrams per liter of water. Previously, the department had allowed manganese levels as high as .5 milligrams per liter of water.
Manganese can still noticeably alter the appearance, taste and odor of water at concentrations of as little as .05 milligrams per liter. According to the Department of Public Health, long-term exposure to high concentrations of manganese in drinking water can negatively affect the nervous system, and is a particular concern for bottle-fed infants.
Bragaw said that the town has been drawing significantly more water this year from sources shared with New London, rather than from Well 1 in an effort to stay within permissible guidelines. He said that eliminating the problem would require addressing manganese concentrations at Well 1A.
“You circle your tail on this thing until you fix it, and you fix it by getting the iron and the manganese filtered out of the source water,” Bragaw said, “so that it’s going to be a much better quality water, and we won’t have to take as much from New London.”
The additional $950,000 for the project comes after two prior attempts to solicit bids came in roughly a million dollars over budget, explained Selectman Kevin Seery, who sits on the Water and Sewer Commission.
The $950,000 increase was unanimously recommended by the East Lyme Water and Sewer Commission at their November 19 meeting.
Bragaw said that connecting Well 1A to Well 6 will effectively double the demand on that water treatment facility, which was cheaper than building a second treatment plant.
“You’re adding in another filter, you’re adding another 1,000 feet of pipe, you’re adding to the equipment. Unfortunately, that’s what’s driving the cost up of this,” Bragaw said, adding that water filtration equipment is highly specialized.
Town officials are holding the bids they’ve already received while waiting for new bids, Bragaw said. The lowest qualified construction bid came from R.H. White, a Massachusetts-based firm with experience on natural gas projects around southeast Connecticut and New England.
“Everything when we go on this process you have to cross your T’s and dot your I’s,” Bragaw said. “It takes three or four months to get any kind of approval from the Department of Health, and then you put it out to bid and you have to wait for two months. Now we’re at the end of this process and we have the bids, if we can get this funding in place we can go.”
The money bonded for the project would be funded by modest rate increases for water customers rather than through tax increases, Bragaw said.
Based on an analysis for the water company’s ten-year outlook, he said that the borrowing can be paid off without a water rate increase of more than 2 percent per year. According to Bragaw, that would still leave East Lyme residents still paying significantly less than customers of comparable town water systems such as Orange or Groton.
The Board of Finance needs to approve the appropriation of the additional $950,000 for the project to move forward. The next finance meeting is scheduled for December 11.