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DEP Found No Violations During Water Company Inspection

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found no violations of safe-drinking regulations during its three-day inspection of the Milford Water Company during the week of July 25, but is pressing the privately held utility to eliminate its ongoing violations of the allowed standards for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) as quickly as possible.

Martin Suuberg, the DEP's Central Region director, delivered that message to town officials, water company officials and local residents at a meeting held in Town Hall on August 4. Last month, the DEP began to inspect the Milford Water Company every two months – rather than the standard once every three years – "to make sure that issues are being addressed early and proactively," he said. A written summary documenting each inspection will be provided to the town within 60 days after each inspection, Suuberg said. (See related story on page 17.

"I want to try to get as much information out there," said Selectman Chairman Dino DeBartolomeis, who hosted the meeting. He questioned David White, president of the Milford Water Company, about his involvement in making sure problems do not re-occur at the utility. "Are you doing everything as a CEO to fix these issues? Are you committed?" DeBartolomeis asked. "Absolutely," White responded. "We're trying to make sure that everything we do is cost-effective and that we have the highest quality water at the best and lowest possible cost."

DeBartolomeis also pressed White on why he was not being heard from, "David [Condrey, the utility's manager] was hired because of his operational ability. He speaks for me. He has my full confidence," White responded. "Whatever DEP needs, we're giving them," Condrey added. "We welcome, we embrace DEP's involvement," White added. "We're not going to have another boil-water order," he stated, referring to the August, 2009 water quality problem.

The ultimate solution to the problem with TTHMs – chemicals that form when chlorine used to disinfect water reacts with naturally occurring organic material in the water supply, according to the DEP – is the completion of a new water treatment plant slated for May, 2013, and the "DEP is not contemplating granting an extension" of that deadline, Suuberg said. While the plant is being designed and constructed, the state agency will "work with the company to address the ongoing issue of chlorination byproducts," he added.

Another issue the DEP is working on with the company is completion of its environmental management system (EMS), Suuberg explained. An EMS basically lays out all standard operating procedures for the company, he explained. After reviewing the Milford Water Company's first draft, the DEP found that "more work needs to be done" and requested the company use an outside consultant to help complete it, with the final version – originally due in the spring – now due in October, Suuberg said. The University of Massachusetts is assisting the company, he added.

"We did not find any violations," Marielle Stone, section chief for drinking water in the DEP's Central Region office, said of the first inspection. DEP did identify 28 "general housekeeping types of things," she added. Suuberg explained that such "deficiencies" are pointed out because they could lead to violations. The state agency also provided 16 recommendations on system improvements, according to the inspection summary it provided at the August 4 meeting. "If they [the water company] don't have a schedule, they have a definite course of action" to correct each deficiency, Stone explained. "We provided technical assistance" to the water company to help bring the TTHM level below the maximum allowed, she continued.

Condrey said the company is using information from the DEP to evaluate a process used in Maine to reduce TTHMs and is conducting a two-week evaluation of it. If it works, the process could be installed in Milford within a month, he added. In the interim, the utility has implemented recommendations by two different engineering firms to try to reduce TTHM levels.

The company relies on several surface water sources, including the Charles River, and has to strike a balance between the amounts of chlorine used to disinfect water because too much chlorination can lead to the formation of TTHMs, Condrey explained. There are different chlorine levels used throughout the town, he explained.

Public Health Director Paul Mazzuchelli – who is the town's "point person" in dealing with the water company – said better communications with the utility are among the Board of Health's goals for this year. "WE have to build the public's trust. We want the average residential user to know that they're being treated as fairly as a high-use user like a hotel or power plant," he said. "We understand as a company that our customer relations have to get better," White said. "We do try to update [users] and get the word out as much as we can," Condrey said.

"We encourage anyone that's having a problem" to call, Condrey said. The company will send people out to flush out of a house's water supply and take samples to test for copper, lead, and TTHMs, he added.


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