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A Housatonic mother struggles with baths, laundry and cooking. She wants this photo of her son to tell the story

Housatonic water problems

Rachel Louchen's son, 3, takes a bath on Thursday morning. Louchen said she wanted to make this photo public to illustrate what Housatonic residents are dealing with. Hot temperatures outside are warming the Long Pond water source, increase the release of more manganese than usual into Housatonic Water Works Co.'s system, the company says. The waterworks is testing a new filtration system it hopes will fix the problem.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Rachel Louchen usually bathes her young son in a friend’s outdoor shower.

The water at their Housatonic village home has run brown every day since June 29, and her son, 3, doesn’t like to get into the tub.

“It’s mud coming out of my faucet,” she said.

But on Thursday morning, the boy desperately needed a bath, and quickly.

Seeing him sitting in the brown water so saddened her, she shot a photo of him and began posting it on social media. She told The Eagle that she wants the photo to be shared, and that she also plans to send it to the water company’s regulators and other officials to show them the realities of living in a home served by the Housatonic Water Works Co.

The water appears to be more discolored, and for more often than usual this summer. More households appear to be affected, though it is unclear exactly how many.

James Mercer, co-owner and treasurer of the waterworks, previously said the summer’s higher temperatures have worsened a discoloration problem related to the presence of manganese in the company’s Long Pond source. The company is testing a new filtration system that it hopes will fix it, but not without an eventual rate hike.

It’s been an on-and-off challenge for years as an aging waterworks serves up water that can be unappetizing, can stain laundry and sparks health concerns, though regulators say tests show it is safe to drink.

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Louchen said her pediatrician told her she wouldn’t recommend drinking it, given the color, but bathing in it is safe because the skin does not absorb much manganese.

Town health officials last week said they will ask the town to possibly buy bottled water for residents until the company can solve the problem. The waterworks has declined to reimburse residents for bottled water.

Thursday evening, Great Barrington announced it would exempt Housatonic stores from its 2019 law that restricts the sale of single use plastic water bottles.

Also the agency that manages Flag Rock Village, a subsidized housing complex, will buy residents there two gallons of bottled water per week.

For Louchen, who has lived in Housatonic since 2015, this summer kicked off a time-consuming domestic problem.

“We have a whole house water filter, but you could change it every 12 hours,” she said, noting the family tries to change the filters daily or every two days. “When it’s this brown there’s no point in changing the filter.”

They buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. And Louchen, who works full time in real estate, said she drives an hour several times a week to do laundry at her mother’s in Connecticut or does it at a friend’s house.

Between her son and her husband, a mechanic, the laundry stacks up.

Louchen says buying bottled water, bathing and doing laundry elsewhere are unsustainable.

“It’s such a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” she said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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