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Tupper Lake will install water meters, but some resist

Improving uptown water quality proves to be slow task

TUPPER LAKE — This village is preparing to install water meters for all water department customers — to bring it into compliance with a state order — even though around 300 customers have not responded to letters requesting easement rights yet.

At the same time, it is searching for a solution to the uptown water quality, which continues to exceed the safe zone of by-products in the water taken from Little Simond Pond.

The village and the company it is working with to organize the meter project, C2AE, urge anyone who has not responded to the letters, anyone who has not received a letter, or anyone concerned about the project to call them at 518-359-3341 for the village or 315-714-5181 for C2AE project manager and engineer Kevin Feuka.

From one solution, two problems

Both the water quality and water meter projects stem from the same source, a well project the village completed in 2018. Water was previously obtained from surface water sources — Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond — but in 2017 the state Department of Environmental Conservation asked the village to move to a well system because the water was over the safe zone for by-products of the disinfection process.

Organic materials such as leaves or algae can form trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids as water is treated with chlorine disinfection. Both these by-products have been linked to harmful side effects after prolonged exposure, including an increased risk for cancer.

These by-products are still showing up in uptown’s water, as it is still supplemented by water from Little Simond Pond. The uptown water is no more dangerous than the water residents of the entire town drank for years, but it is not as safe as in downtown.

After the village had finished the new well water system, the DEC notified the village that it must install the devices or the state agency would not issue a water withdrawal permit, as it has been doing with communities statewide.

Resisting metering

Residents and their representatives on the village board have expressed unhappiness with this state requirement. On Enterprise Facebook forums, some Tupper Lakers have expressed fear that meters would lead to higher rates and greater government control of their lives.

At the August village board meeting Trustee Clint Hollingsworth asked Feuka if he knew of any other communities that have experienced a situation like Tupper Lake, where it installed a well system, to later learn from the DEC that it would not be able to draw water unless it installed the meters. Hollingsworth called this a “bait and switch.”

Feuka said he did not know of any other communities that had this situation.

Hollingsworth addressed the concern that this would mean the village would start charging rates based on meter usage.

“I think it’s safe to say we would not vote for that,” Hollingsworth said. “I would never vote for that.”

Mayor Paul Maroun expressed a similar sentiment.

“Our water department is in excellent financial condition,” Maroun said. “As long as I’m mayor … I don’t foresee any reason that we have to charge for metering of water.”

He said in a couple decades that might change, but that he could not tell if it would or why. In the meantime, the village is forced to comply with the state demand: In order to receive village water, all customers need to have the meters installed.

“This is a state order. We’re going to make it as user-friendly as possible,” Maroun said. “There are approximately 360 locations that have not sent back a letter. I’m asking those people to either call the village office, send their letter in, or call me and I’ll hand-deliver the letter to you.”

The letters are for easements allowing the installing contractors to enter homes and install the meters.

Since the distribution of the water relies on the installation of the meters, an unreturned letter could result in someone’s water service being ended.

As of Sept. 4, Maroun said that around 300 of the total 2,195 easement letters still had not been returned. On Friday he sent out a letter to these addresses asking one more time for them to allow the installation. That letter must be turned in by this Friday, Sept. 13.

Feuka said installation should begin next week, with four or five crews doing around eight meters a day each, factoring to around 30 to 40 meters a day, or around 300 a week total.

“They really plan to rally through the community,” Feuka said.

He said the meters will be installed by North Country Contractors LLC and have been purchased from VEPO Metering.

Maroun said the work done by the installers is insured, so any damage caused in the process would be covered.

Several issues were brought up, possibly explaining the absence of the 300 letters, including if a house is in a different name than the people occupying it. Feuka said any renter worried their landlord has not sent in letter can call the village or him.

What to do about water

Customers have also voiced complaints that even with the new system, uptown residents are still getting substandard water quality. The well was supposed to stop that, and the well water is fine but can’t support whole system. Uptown still gets groundwater from Little Simond Pond.

“We are improving. The numbers are coming down,” Feuka said. “Your wells have been on supply now for closing in on 14 months. But it’s still not getting it down to where it needs to be. There still are violations.”

The village will aerate the pond floor around the intake pipe in an attempt to solve the problem, but also approved an application for a $40,000 study into the matter, which members said they will not approve except as a last resort.

Water department Superintendent Mark Robillard said the problem is likely caused because the “crib,” which was built in 1932 to hold the intake pipe off the pond floor a couple hundred feet out from shore, has disintegrated over time and the pipe is likely now corroded on the pond bottom, sucking in organic matter that mixes with chlorine to create the by-products.

Aeration, which is likely to cost around $3,500, was considered the easiest solution, possibly clearing organic material of the intake. It is supposed to use air to pull organic matter out of water, so it can’t end up reacting with chlorine.

However, if the problem persists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could fine the village at any time and issue another consent order.

Feuka said the initial favored option was looking for another groundwater source in the south end of town, but that they have not found. He said a third well at Pitchfork Pond is not viable.

Microfiltration is another common solution, but that would be a $1 million project and might not solve everything.

“We don’t want to go there,” Feuka said.

Feuka said it is unknown whether there is just one big problem or a bunch of small ones.

Maroun made a motion to apply for a study into eliminating the by-products, which was approved on conditions that the vote was not an approval of the study itself.

The study, a preliminary engineering report, is a precursor to getting grants for any actual solution, and costs $40,000 on its own. Feuka said 75% of the cost could be reimbursed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development pre-development planning grant, meaning the village would pay $10,000 for the study.

Feuka said the study would have to be done before any state or federal grants could be applied to the actual solution.

When the motion for the study was put forward, Hollingsworth asked if approving it would approve the $10,000 cost. Feuka said yes.

“Have we exhausted every possible option before we go there?” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth said he doesn’t want to study something that can be cheaply resolved.

“I think what some of the trustees are worried about is, we’re going to have to expend some money for the study and then maybe we can cure it before the study gets done,” Maroun said.

The board then settled on aerating the floor, and getting a diver to take pictures of the intake and possibly clear up some of the questions.