Too late for your gardens, but get ready to fill those ice rinks, Natick.
Director of Public Works Jeremy Marsette told the Select Board on Wednesday that the town just needs to finish a bit of paperwork before lifting the nonessential water usage ban, which went into effect in May. No specific date was given other than “coming days.”
Though as one commenter asked: Oh, the ban was still a thing?
The ban, made through an emergency declaration, resulted from discovery of elevated levels of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Natick’s drinking water. Natick turned off wells with elevated levels of these so-called “forever chemicals,” which come from weatherproofing, firefighter foam, and other products, and can have harmful effects on people and the environment over time. In order to maintain its water supply in light of the contamination situation, as well as general drought conditions, the town put the outdoor water use ban in place while cranking up wells at Elm Bank that usually are off-limits during spring and summer.
Marsette gave a general update on the town’s progress on addressing the PFAS situation as well.
The town has taken immediate measures to rid its water of elevated levels of the 6 PFAS compounds regulated at the entry points to its water distribution system, and that has gone well other than 1 recent monthly test that showed a slightly elevated level at one entry point. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has put standards in place and regulated for them the past year.
The feds have not, but that’s likely coming in 2022, and makes the town’s planning a challenge.
“It’s breaking news …it’s somewhat in flux and has been very hard to plan for in that we don’t know if the U.S. EPA is going to set a limit that’s lower than the current Massachusetts limit,” Marsette said. “The current rumor is they will, which will certainly impact our ability to plan.”
Natick has been working many channels since getting its notice from the state earlier this year about the elevated PFAS levels to get funds to help it address the situation. This included a $140K grant from the state.
The town was supposed to submit a long-term corrective action plan by year-end, but is seeking an extension for a slew of reasons, including having a chance to get new carbon filters running at its Springvale water treatment facility on Rte. 9 east and seeing what federal regulations might emerge. The town also wants to see what sort of federal funds might become available through the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act.
The filters, funded through a capital appropriation at Spring Town Meeting and emergency funding through the state, are designed to extract PFAS from 2 million gallons of water a day and allow the plant to pump out 4 million gallons of water by mixing in other clean water.
Natick hoped to have the filters online by the end of November, thanks in part to expedited permitting by the state, but now estimates the filters will be working by the end of the year or in early January. “Despite numerous supply chain issues, the project is generally on schedule,” Marsette said, noting one of the last pieces of the puzzle are 20-inch water gates made of iron that have been delayed.
As for alternate sources of water, Marsette said that Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has now provided a local emergency connection in Natick (under Rte. 30) to its supply. Natick has no plans to use this connection, but it’s a good safety net.
Meanwhile, the town continues its investigation into possible sources of its water contamination. It has done so with surface-level water but wants to dig deeper into groundwater. The Select Board approved a contract during the meeting for engineering services to do just that. Finding the sources could help the town pursue some cost recovery, Marsette said.