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Housing agency to supply free bottled water to residents of a Housatonic complex, as discoloration problem continues

Housatonic water

Photos of Housatonic water posted to a Housatonic Facebook group in the last two days.

GREAT BARRINGTON — The agency that runs a subsidized housing complex will provide free bottled water to its residents, sparing them the cost as the community continues to struggle with discolored water.

The Great Barrington Housing Authority’s board voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday to provide residents of Flag Rock Village with two gallons of bottled water every four weeks.

Flag Rock, off Park Street, consists of 18 family units and 32 senior units. The entire complex is served by the Housatonic Water Works Co., which has had a longstanding problem with discolored water. The company attributes the discoloration to excessive manganese in the Long Pond water source.

Authority Executive Director Tina Danzy will ask for reimbursement from the authority’s oversight and funding agency, the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said board Chair John Grogan, who made the motion for the vote.

Grogan told The Eagle the authority would deliver the water to all renters. Grogan said the board felt the water issue is urgent enough to dip into the authority’s cash reserves, which have sunk below the recommended 30 percent due to inflation.

He isn’t yet sure of the cost, or where the bottled water will come from.

The decision comes days after the town’s Board of Health said it would begin pressing Select Board members to take action to find solutions for residents who are increasingly mobilizing for change.

While regulators say the water is safe to drink, water customers had a scare earlier this year when the company released test results showing elevated levels of a compound linked to cancer. The company sent out a notice that suggested it might not be safe for the very young, elderly or immunocompromised to drink the water.

Those contaminant levels have since dropped, but the discoloration problem has worsened this summer, since warm temperatures tend to release more manganese in the water, according to the waterworks.

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The company is testing a filtration system that it believes will solve the problem.

Meanwhile, residents are tired of a problem that has ruined white laundry and forces them to buy bottled water on top of paying their water bills. Some have protested this by not paying.

Others are writing to regulators and state officials, and posting photos of the water to Facebook.

Housatonic resident Holly Troiano told The Eagle her water isn’t always as bad as what was coming out of her faucet Tuesday. It was particularly “nasty” that day.

Housatonic water

At left, Housatonic water from Denise and Trevor Forbes' kitchen faucet on Tuesday night. To the right is a bottle of spring water they buy. 

“However, it has been a light tea color for months and we are tired of having to pay for other water,” she said.

Denise and Trevor Forbes filed a complaint Tuesday with the Select Board and the waterworks’ regulators, the state Department of Public Utilities and the Department of Environmental Protection.

They included a photo of jugs filled with water from their kitchen faucet placed next to a bottle filled with Berkshire Mountain Spring Water for comparison.

“How is anyone expected to drink this water?” their complaint asked.

This story was corrected to reflect that water delivery is every four weeks.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com

or 413-329-6871.

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