Wellesley water update: PFAS back in spotlight

Coming off a summer of odd-even watering rules in Wellesley as a result of elevated PFAS (aka, forever chemicals) found in public drinking water, we’re now starting to hear more details about how the town plans to address this public health issue.

morses pond wellesley water dept
Morses Pond treatment plant

Wellesley shut down its Morses Pond treatment plant in early May, and has since been relying on its other two plants, plus water supplied by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, to deliver safe water to customers. The Morses Pond plant usually supplies over 1 million gallons of water a day, so the town was facing a possible shortage that could have threatened available water for fighting fires and other uses (of course the seemingly non-stop summer rain might have helped Wellesley out on that front, too).

Wellesley DPW Director David Cohen is scheduled to give a PFAS update at the Select Board meeting on Monday, Sept. 20, where discussion will focus on the possible use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to cover some of the cost of PFAS mitigation solutions (and possibly to restore some some capital funds).

Cohen is fresh off of a PFAS update on possible interim and long-term solutions before the Advisory Committee on Sept. 8 (near start of Wellesley Media recording).

All this prefaces Special Town Meeting in late October, when Town Meeting members will vote on funding new water treatment approaches.

pfas tm

Cohen summarized the PFAS update at the Board of Public Works meeting on Sept. 14 (view Wellesley Media recording).

The DPW has been working with consultant Environmental Partners on developing plans to treat PFAS at the Morses Pond plant, and is currently digesting a proposal received this week. The interim approach being proposed involves granulated carbon treatment that dechlorinates the water before it goes through the PFAS treatment, a resin-filtered ion exchange process. The permanent solution relies on granulated, activated carbon to filter the water.

An interim solution, which could cost $1.5M and be online by February, entails rented “containerized, trailer-mounted treatment vessels,” that would be pulled up aside the treatment plan and connected by pipes, Cohen said.

A permanent solution would consist of 4 large vessels installed next to the treatment plant and enclosed in a structure to match the existing building, he said. The estimate for this is $5.3M, and assuming favorable lead times, wouldn’t be ready to go until May of 2023.

The bidding process has yet to begin on this gear, which you might imagine demand is rising for as more communities seek to rid their water supplies of PFAS in the face of stricter state standards.

The DPW is working to refine the plan and have firmer figures to share at Special Town Meeting. The treatment equipment would be paid for through borrowing, grants, and gifts. Cohen’s team is “looking under every stone,” for funding options, he said.

One major goal with the treatment plans is to enable Wellesley to have “a broad portfolio of water,” Cohen says. The town doesn’t want to over-rely on Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water, which Wellesley is using to replace the Morses Pond treatment plant supply,  both because it costs 3 or 4 times what it costs the town to produce its own water, and in case anything ever happened to the MWRA system.

Finally, to wrap up with some good news, the August PFAS sampling results are in for August for Wellesley’s plants other than Morses Pond and the numbers are slightly down.