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All is not well in Tupper Lake

Two paths to clean water in Tupper Lake

Tupper Lake village Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Mark Robillard places a stake in the ground at the site of a potential third well on the shore of the Raquette River. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — This village has been in an year’s long struggle for clean drinking water and there are two possible paths forward the water department and village board are considering — drilling a third well to source more ground water or installing microfiltration plants to source cleaner lake water.

After years of poor water color and quality, and following many attempts to amend this issue that have failed or resulted in further problems, Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Mark Robillard said he hopes a third potential well drilling site on the shore of Raquette River — at the end of Glenwood Avenue — will be enough to supplement the two existing wells drilled in 2018.

But he and the board are also considering other, more drastic measures if the Glenwood well does not work out.

At a village board meeting last week, Robillard said the two wells on the other end of town — at Pitchfork Pond — do not produce enough to supply the whole village and town customer-base with water.

Robillard said the Glenwood well would provide well water to the uptown area, making the village water system a fully ground water-drawn system.

He has asked Layne Granite, which did the initial drilling for the test well, to come back and see if water can be pumped out at a greater volume. This will let him know if the well is viable and let the department better test for water quality — namely for the presence of iron, which has turned the water of one of the Pitchfork Pond wells a brown color.

If this well does not pan out, Robillard said, the water department’s next step forward may be taking a step backward — retrofitting its lake water sources on Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond with microfiltration plants to bring their water quality up to standards.

Village board Trustee and water and sewer commissioner Ron LaScala said in hindsight he wishes the village had just built a plant on Big Tupper Lake from the start.

“If we just built a microfiltration plant this would all be over,” he said. “We could have been done with this years ago.”

However, Robillard said the cost of this plant is unknown. The reason the village went with the well water route is because in recent years the state has pushed for municipalities to switch to well water sourcing, with grant incentives.

Well woes

Before 2018, village and town water was obtained from Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond. Organic materials in the water, 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.

The state provides grants for well digging and studies, and not many for microfiltration plants. LaScala said since Tupper Lake relies on grants to get work done it went with the wells. The state Department of Environmental Conservation would not authorize drawing well water without the village installing water meters in every customers’ home. The village purchased these with a 0% interest loan through the DEC and are around 35% through installing them, according to village Mayor Paul Maroun. These meters cost the village a couple hundred dollars each.

“Every time something looks good we have an additional add-on issue that turns things around again,” Maroun said.

The two existing wells have not been enough to meet the town’s demand, however, and the uptown area, farthest from the wells, is still supplemented with water from Little Simond Pond. Therefore, the carcinogenic by-products are still showing up in uptown’s water.

One of the wells has also been producing water with iron in it.

Iron in drinking water does not pose a health risk, however, it turns the water a concerning brown color and gives it a metallic taste.

LaScala said the village was told iron would never show up in the well, so it is frustrating that it now is producing the mineral. The red soil near the Glenwood site may indicate it has iron in its water, too. LaScala said Tupper Lake is “surrounded by iron.”

The water near the Glenwood well is also hard, meaning it has a high mineral content. Again, this is a taste issue, not a health issue. Robillard said hard water can be treated with chemicals.

LaScala said the water department has thrown millions of dollars, science and engineers at the quality and water issue, to no avail.

He said at some point he may come to the board and suggest that they consider borrowing money for a microfiltration plant, and to study how much it would cost, but he is not happy about this idea.

Robillard said either plan — the Glenwood well or microfiltration — would need approval by the state Department of Health.

Frustration

LaScala said the village board and water department just want clean, healthy water for the community.

“It’s one big headache after another over here at the water and sewer department,” LaScala said. “We’re doing the best we can. It is the most frustrating problem I’ve ever run across in my life.”

LaScala said he feels bad for Robillard, saying the superintendent “gets hell every day.”

Robillard said he has a good crew of workers and that he takes it “one day at a time.”

LaScala said it is surprising that in the middle of the Adirondacks they are having such a problem finding drinking water.

“We have a public that is just fed up,” LaScala said. “They are fed up with paying for water that they don’t feel comfortable drinking.”

He said at some point the village may have to go to the state and tell it that ground filtered water just doesn’t work in Tupper Lake. He does not like this idea. He sees it as “failure” which he usually considers to be “not an option.”

“If we don’t hear better news on this Glenwood well site, I really have to start saying we have to (pull out, find other options),” LaScala said.

Trustee Clint Hollingsworth said he is frustrated, too. He is tired of the community getting “cruddy water.”

“It’s cringeworthy sometimes when you open up social media and you see this water that sometimes looks like coffee,” LaScala said.

This water is deemed safe to drink, but LaScala said it is hard to understand how.

Maroun said Robillard is working on getting an initial cost estimate for a microfiltration plant on the lake. He estimates it will cost several million dollars, but said the village may have to pivot to that plan if it does not get better results on the Glenwood well.

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