Wellesley Special Town Meeting approved an article in October that paved the way for the Department of Public Works to set up a $1.5M interim solution to address PFAS chemicals in the town’s drinking water. But the town knows it needs to do more to address these so-called “forever chemicals,” which can have harmful health effects, and will give an update on its current and possible future plans at an online public forum on Thursday, Dec. 16 from 7:30-9pm.
That event, focused on the challenges of addressing Per- and PolyFluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS) in the water system, will be hosted by the Wellesley Board of Public Works. Also on hand will be reps from the Department of Public Works, Health Department, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Town consultants will be in attendance.
If you want a sneak preview of at least some of the information that will be shared, check out the latest Board of Health meeting (first half hour of Wellesley Media recording) during which DPW Director Dave Cohen updates the Board on PFAS.
The DPW initially looked to spend, beyond the $1.5M for its PFAS filtering pilot test at the Morses Pond Water Treatment Plant, $5.3M for a permanent solution. The Morses Pond plant, which the town turned off in May, typically supplies 30%-40% of Wellesley’s water. (Note: The wells near Morses Pond mainly get their supply from ground water, not so much from the pond itself, Water and Sewer Superintendent Bill Shaughnessy told the Board of Health during its Dec. 9 meeting).
And while the immediate solutions address the elevated PFAS levels at that plant, the town is planning its long-term budget with an eye toward covering expected costs at its other plants. The state about a year ago put in place standards for six PFAS compounds not to exceed 20 parts per trillion in drinking water, and it’s widely expected that that the federal government next year will issue its own standards and that they will be stricter than the state’s.
They could even address additional PFAS compounds. All that would likely result in the need for action at Wellesley’s other plants, where the goal would be to reach “non-detect” levels,” Cohen says.
The silver lining in Wellesley being notified by the state about its need to address PFAS earlier than many other communities is that the town has already snagged state ($150K from the DEP) and federal funding ($1.5M in American Rescue Plan Act funds) to support its mitigation efforts. It also got in line earlier for PFAS filtering gear, which is increasingly in demand against a strained supply chain backdrop.
“There’s lots more infrastructure money that’s being made available, specifically for water and PFAS. We’re actively looking and working with our consultants to identify all of those sources to offset the cost of this very expensive solution,” Cohen told the Board of Health. “The permanent solution is over $5M and that’s just for one treatment plant. If we go for the other treatment plants you can triple that. So a lot of money is being spent, no matter how we go…”
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-5) this past week stopped by the South Natick dam to promote the clean water infrastructure provisions in the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. She said Massachusetts is poised to receive $12.5 billion dollars through the law, with just over $1 billion dollars dedicated to improving water infrastructure. The congresswoman said the Act will provide funds related to detecting and removing PFAS from water supplies locally and across the country.
Among the topics to be discussed at the Wellesley public forum on PFAS will be mitigation alternatives. Some in town have questioned investing in expensive filtering systems, suggesting the town might be better off just buying more water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. It could (“They’re in the business of selling water,” with plenty to spare, Cohen says), but that would be expensive, and the town wants to maintain redundancy in its water resources. It would also take several years to put the infrastructure in place to be able to take in more MWRA water.
One impact of Wellesley significantly upping its use of MWRA water by about a million gallons a day since the spring as part of its PFAS solution is that water bills will go way up in FY23, as the town’s bill is based on prior year’s usage. It’s cheaper for the town to produce its own water, which is why the DPW has focused its initial planned mitigation efforts on getting the Morses Pond treatment plant reopened.
“We’re expecting our MWRA bill to go up by over $1M dollars, and that’s going to result in a significant rate increase for our customers…to the order of …it could be as high as 60% increase on the water bill just for the water we’ve already used because [the Morses Pond treatment plant] is shut down,” Cohen said.
Did he say 60%? Yup.
So you might want to tune into that public forum.