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Upgrades will cause Housatonic water bills to double, as faucets run brown in hot weather

Reed Anderson holding jar of dirty tap water (copy)

Reed Anderson, a customer of Housatonic Water Works Co., holds a sample of his water in July 2021.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Typically, hydrant flushing roils the town's water into something that looks like tea or coffee. This time, it’s the searing heat.

Meanwhile, residents in the Housatonic section of town are bracing to pay to fix the ongoing problem with the water supply.

Long Pond, the Housatonic Water Works Co.’s source, reached 83 degrees on July 25, according to James Mercer, the company's co-owner and treasurer. Water that warm dissolves naturally occurring manganese present in the pond, turning brown the water that pours out faucets. 

Housatonic Water Works Co. faucet runs brown

Christine Koval's faucet ran brown on July 28.

The price tag for fixing this and other problems in the aging water supply system? At least $4 million, if it all gets approved.

Monthly water bills would double. A customer with a $44.73 bill now will pay $45 on top of that, Mercer informed customers in an Aug. 1 letter.

Residents are not happy. With increasing frequency since late July, their Facebook posts show photos of bathtubs, sinks and pools filled with dingy water, along with at least one ruined white skirt. 

“Half the pool was brown,” said Kayla Aberdale, a Housatonic native who recently moved into what was once her grandparent’s house, and loves the pool she grew up with. “It hasn’t been bad until a few days ago.”

Christine Koval's water looks like coffee. It's been that way every day since June 4, she said. She's been buying bottled water, and is now planning to buy a water cooler. 

Pressure continues to mount for the privately owned waterworks to fix discoloration and other problems with the aging system. Some residents stopped paying their water bill in protest.

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Fixing the discoloration means buying a “greensand” filtration system at a cost of between $1.75 million and $2 million. Housatonic Water Works Co. engineers think it will do the trick. 

The company will begin a pilot study to make sure. It got approval from regulators on Aug. 1 to begin. 

The second phase of fixing what ails the system will cost another $2 million, and that includes a new 800,000-gallon storage tank.

Regulators continue to say the water is safe to drink, but residents are skeptical.

The safety came into question in January when the company announced elevated levels since last August of a compound linked to cancer. Those levels have since dropped.

In an Aug. 1 letter to customers, Mercer thanked them for their understanding during “incredibly challenging times” caused by the “seasonally induced episodes of discolored water.”

Mercer says the culprit is climate change, and that Housatonic is not alone. Nine other communities in the state have discoloration problems due to manganese.

“Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy fix for this problem due to approvals required by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); and Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU),” Mercer wrote.

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

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