Update: Thursday, September 21, 2023
Steady Progress on Getting New Water Treatment Plant Online
The commissioning of the new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant is ongoing, with the iron filters 100 percent operational. The manganese filters are now being conditioned and will require testing to ensure they are working correctly. We expect this to take about two weeks. The PFAS filters can then be brought online, which is also a complex process. We still anticipate it will be November when the plant is fully operational.
Once the manganese filters are fully working, we will begin transmitting the Spectacle Pond well water to the new treatment plant. You may recall the Spectacle Pond well has been used at reduced capacity and blended with the Beaver Brook well water to ensure the levels of the regulated chemical PFAS do not exceed the state’s maximum contaminant level of 20 parts per trillion. Soon we will be able to blend Spectacle Pond well water with Whitcomb Avenue well water. This will increase the volume of Spectacle Pond water we can safely use.
With the end of summer and the increase in available water, we will be able to conduct flushing to remove the iron and manganese sediment built up in the system. These nuisance minerals impact the appearance and taste of tap water.
On September 13, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the end of the construction of the Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant, which was dedicated to our late colleague Margaret “Meg” Fraser Romilly.
Update: Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Sewer Construction, Aging Water Mains Cause of Recent Breaks
A water main break on Russell Street today was an accident caused by digging for the installation of sewer mains. Unfortunately, these types of accidents can and do happen during construction. Every effort is made to prevent puncturing water mains, but diagrams of the older parts of the water system are not always precise.
The water main break Monday night on Great Road was also caused by aging infrastructure, as the main that ruptured is among the oldest type in the system. LELWD has an ongoing program to replace aging water mains, but the work is expensive, disruptive and takes time. Aging pipes were also the culprit in the August 19th break on Great Road and Mary Shepherd Road.
The water main breaks could not come at a worse time. As a result of the PFAS situation, reduced water availability, and delays in bringing the new water treatment plant fully online, LELWD has been unable to maintain regular system flushing. This has resulted in the buildup of iron and manganese sediment in the water distribution system. A water main break stirs up the minerals and this causes temporarily discolored water. (Read more about removing PFAS.)
We understand the disruption that discolored water can cause to residents and businesses. We are doing everything we can to bring the new plant online as fast as possible so we can have adequate water supplies to both flush the system and meet customer needs.
If you have discolored water, please report it to [email protected]. Also, run a cold tap for 10 minutes to clear the water lines. If the water remains discolored, wait one hour and try again.
Update: Thursday, August 10, 2023
Iron Filtration Marks Major Milestone for New Water Treatment Plant
An important milestone has been met in the months-long process of bringing the new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant online. The new iron filters are online and are removing iron at nearly non-detectable levels. Flows through the iron filters will be gradually increased and the filtered water tested to ensure they continue to properly function under high-volume conditions.
The next step will be to bring the manganese filters online, followed by the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) filters. As with the iron, the manganese and PFAS filtration systems must be brought online gradually, and the filtered water analyzed to ensure they are working as intended. When completed, the raw water from the Whitcomb Avenue wells and Spectacle Pond well will be filtered to remove iron, manganese and PFAS before the finished water enters the distribution system.
Update on Russell Street
The water main break on Russell Street was repaired by about 7:30 p.m. yesterday. There were reports of temporarily discolored water. If that happens, run a cold tap for about 10 minutes. If that does not clear up the water, wait for an hour and repeat the process.
Managing Through a Transition Period
The Littleton Water Department is working hard to accomplish two complicated goals. When achieved, the quality of the public water in Littleton will be greatly improved.
- The commissioning of a new state-of-the-art water treatment plant to remove iron, manganese and PFAS from raw water. Bringing the plant up to full capacity is complicated and cannot be rushed. It is scheduled to be fully operational later this fall, but setbacks are possible.
- Under normal circumstances, flushing water mains is routine. However, due to PFAS present in the Spectacle Pond well, Littleton does not currently have the water supply to confidently meet consumer demand and flush without drawing on the Spectacle Pond well. The goal is to flush in the fall, after the peak summer demand for water, and before winter weather sets in. However, this leaves us to contend, in the meantime, with the buildup of iron and manganese in the water distribution system which has been causing the occurrence of discolored water.
Once the treatment plant is fully online, and we can again fully use the Spectacle Pond well, there will be more than enough water for flushing. With plans for a new well on Taylor Street, Littleton Water will be able to meet future demands.
Ultimately, the Littleton water system will be flushed and the new treatment plant will greatly reduce the level of minerals entering it in the first place. The plant will also remove PFAS, which will once-again allow the full use of the Spectacle Pond well. This will alleviate many of the water restrictions we’ve lived with since 2019.
If all goes well with the treatment plant start-up, both goals should be accomplished by late fall of this year. At that point, we as a community will have greatly improved the quality of water we are able to deliver. We thank the Littleton community and our customers for their understanding as we work together to build a 21st century water system that serves the town today and well into the future.
Update: Wednesday, August 9, 2023
A water main break today on Russell Street may result in temporarily discolored water. While the break is on Russell Street, it is difficult to predict where discolored water will appear. Residents are advised to set aside water while the taps run clear.
Customers on Russell Street may be without water while repairs are made over the next several hours. Drivers are asked to avoid Russell Street. Customers who have signed up for the Community Notification system will be notified. We apologize for the inconvenience.
When disturbed, iron and manganese built up in the water distribution system can temporarily cause discolored water. With ongoing construction in the summer months and the potential for fire hydrant use, disruptions are a possibility and residents are advised to prepare by setting aside water for future use.
If you experience discolored water, run a cold tap for 10 minutes until the water runs clear. If that does not work, try again later. Prior to running washing machines, dishwashers, hot water heaters and other appliances that use water, run your tap to check for clear water.
Removing the Natural Minerals that Cause Discolored Waters
Not surprisingly, most water is consumed in the summer months, even with this season’s heavy rains. That’s why the water department typically flushes the water mains in the spring and fall. However, due to reduced use of the Spectacle Pond well after the 2019 discovery of elevated levels of PFAS, regular flushing has been curtailed. This was necessary to conserve water for public consumption and to avoid drawing additional water from Spectacle Pond to meet the demands of both consumers and flushing.
Water personnel are closely monitoring the water system, usage rates, and the frequency and causes of discolored water to pick the optimal 4- to 6-week period to flush the distribution system of iron and manganese. Flushing ultimately clears the water mains but may temporarily cause discolored water during the process. When a date for flushing has been determined, consumers will be informed.
The Problem with Predicting Where Discolored Water Will Appear
Where discolored water will occur is difficult to predict. It does not always occur near the site of the system disruption. For example, a water main break increases the flow to that area, pulling water from other parts of the system. That may stir up the iron and manganese elsewhere, but not always near the break.
The Russell Street break, which resulted from ongoing sewer construction, has resulted in a report of discolored water on the eastern side of Littleton. Replacement of a water main gate near Murray Park Road, where residents were notified in advance, resulted in a report of discolored water about 1.5 miles away on Coburn Lane.
Over the weekend, residents in the Foster Street area experienced discolored water. We were able to track it back to use of a fire hydrant for training purposes by the Littleton Fire Department. Ongoing training and the availability of water for firefighting are critical to public safety. Littleton Water will be working closely with the Littleton Fire Department to coordinate hydrant use. In the event of hydrant use, Littleton Water will communicate with residents about the potential for discolored water. To ensure you receive an update, please sign up for Community Notifications system using the link at the bottom of this page.
Update: Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Littleton Water personnel are working in multiple areas to resolve the issue of discolored tap water and complete a multi-year plan to improve the quality of drinking water.
Work is progressing to test the components of the new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant and bring it online. Water is now flowing through the plant’s pipes, and the next step will be bringing the three filtration systems online one by one. The biological filter to remove iron is scheduled to start up next week. The biological filter to remove manganese will follow a couple weeks later. Finally, the granular activated carbon filtration system for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances will follow.
The new plant will address the primary source of iron and manganese in the water – the Whitcomb Avenue wells. It is expected to be fully operational in November. This schedule has been delayed over the course of the project. Construction was halted for a year due to a lawsuit and its resolution. Then, the COVID-caused supply chain shortages delayed the arrival of critical electronic components, which pushed anticipated completion from the spring to the fall of this year.
Customer reports of discolored water have dropped off considerably since Monday, July 17. Customers are asked to report discolored tap water to [email protected]. The reports help us track the timing and location of occurrences, which can assist in pinpointing a specific cause.
Townwide, water mains need to be flushed to remove iron and manganese. Water personnel are carefully considering the scheduling of the flushing to not overburden water supplies and the system. There is high demand from consumers for water in the summer months. A townwide flushing will also require a large amount of water. Water customers will be notified prior to the start of flushing as it may cause temporary discolored water as iron and manganese are removed from the water mains.
To receive LELWD announcements, please sign up for the Community Notification system.
Water Transmission Line Flushed
Crews successfully flushed the water transmission main today, which was a leading contributor to the recent discolored water in the distribution system. Also, personnel continue to work on repairing damages to the Spectacle Pond well facility caused by the lightning strike last Friday. Several electrical components have been replaced and more needs to be done.
If you are still experiencing dirty water, please email LELWD at [email protected] with your name and address. We will be monitoring the situation throughout the weekend.
Update: Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Water Transmission Line Isolated from System & Crews Prepare for Flushing
- A water transmission line suspected in recent reports of discolored water has been isolated from the system.
- Crews plan to flush the transmission line on Thursday, July 20. Unfortunately, there is the potential the flushing results in temporary discolored water in some locations.
- Customers are advised to set aside water for use in the event of discolored water and to report discolored water to lelwd.com.
- Plans are being developed to conduct a systemwide flushing. No date has been set, but customers will be notified in advance.
Water Main Isolated
A water transmission line thought to have played a role in the recent period of discolored water was isolated from the main system on Monday. Reports of discolored water tapered off after that action was taken.
As a next step, water personnel plan to flush the transmission line on Thursday, July 20, to remove sediment from within. The transmission line connects the Spectacle Pond well to the new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant.
There is the potential that flushing the transmission main could result in discolored water in parts of the system. Flushing requires a large amount of water which could stir up iron and manganese sediment in other areas. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict with certainty where that might occur.
Customers are advised to set aside water for use in the event of discolored water. Please, report instances of discolored water by emailing the date, time and address to [email protected].
Developing Plans for Townwide Flushing
Water personnel are developing plans for a townwide flushing. The flushing is required to remove the iron and manganese sediment built up in the system. Flushing can also result in temporarily discolored water, but flushing will eventually result in clear water as the sediments are removed.
Flushing had been curtailed in recent years due to a restricted water supply. The Spectacle Pond well has run at limited capacity since 2019 after testing showed elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant is scheduled to be fully operational around November. It will remove iron, manganese and PFAS. The new plant will ensure adequate supplies to resume the regular spring and fall flushing schedule starting in 2024.
However, the buildup of sediment has reached a level where flushing can no longer wait for the new treatment plant to be online. Personnel are working on a plan that flushes the system while being careful not to overstress water supplies and the system. For example, the Spectacle Pond treatment plant is showing signs of age and needs to be kept operating until the new water treatment plant comes fully online, at which point it will be decommissioned. The Spectacle Pond plant was damaged by a lightning strike on Friday, July 14, and electronic components had to be replaced.
Personnel are preparing the system, facilities, and equipment to conduct a systemwide flushing. A date has not been set. This web page will be updated when a date is set, and customers will be notified by mail.
Please continue to check this page for updates.
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2023
A Message to our Customers: Discolored Water
- Many Littleton Water Department customers have recently experienced discoloration of the tap water. This is due to the buildup of naturally occurring minerals in the water mains.
- All customers are advised to set aside water while their tap is clear or rely on bottled water for consumption during periods of discolored water.
- We apologize to the customers who have experienced periods of discolored water, and we thank them for alerting us. We take this seriously and understand the disruption of daily activities caused by discolored water.
What is happening?
Discolored water has been reported by numerous customers for extended periods of time. While discolored water events typically clear within hours, we have received reports of the problem lasting for days.
Discolored water results from the buildup of naturally occurring minerals iron and manganese in the water mains. When stirred up by disruptions to the water system, the minerals leave the water discolored. Disruptions can be anything that causes an increase in water flow, such as a water main break or hydrant use.
For example, a lightning strike on Friday, July 14, triggered the shutdown of the Spectacle Pond well. The process of addressing that problem shifted the flows in the water mains and likely contributed to discolored water in the area of Hartwell Avenue. Unfortunately, where or when discolored water will occur is unpredictable due to the complexity of the hydraulics in the water system. A water main break on one side of town can impact the other side of town.
What can be done about it?
The Littleton Water Department is actively developing a plan to address the problem, in consultation with the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency that regulates public water suppliers. We will post an update here within 48 hours. Please check back.
Customers report that the normal advice for clearing discolored water is ineffective. Typically, running a cold tap for up to 10 minutes until the water clears would resolve the issue. Unfortunately, recent periods of discoloration have lasted hours or days, per customer reports.
As stated above, customers are advised to set aside water while their tap is clear or rely on bottled water for consumption during periods of discolored water.
Why is this happening?
Littleton Water has had to restrict the amount of system flushing since 2019 due to reduced water supplies. The reduced flushing has resulted in a buildup of iron and manganese in the system.
The Spectacle Pond well has been offline or on restricted use since the discovery of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at that source. As a result, Littleton Water curtailed flushing to ensure there was adequate water to meet consumer demands from the Whitcomb Avenue and Beaver Brook wells with limited use of the Spectacle Pond well.
PFAS is a family of manmade contaminants, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has set a drinking water standard for PFAS at no more than 20 parts per trillion. Greater use of the Spectacle Pond well risks exceeding the state limit on PFAS in drinking water. Learn more about PFAS.
When PFAS is present at levels above the state’s maximum contaminant level, the MassDEP advises:
- “Sensitive subgroups, including pregnant or nursing women, infants and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system, should consider using bottled water that has been tested for PFAS6, for their drinking water, cooking of foods that absorb water (like pasta) and to make infant formula. Bottled water that has been tested for PFAS6, or formula that does not require adding water, are alternatives.
- “For older children and adults, the MMCL is applicable to a lifetime of consuming the water. For these groups, shorter duration exposures present less risk. However, if you are concerned about your exposure while steps are taken to assess and lower the PFAS6 concentration in your drinking water, use of bottled water that has been tested for PFAS6 will reduce your exposure.
What is the long-term solution?
A new water treatment plant at Whitcomb Avenue will remove iron, manganese and PFAS from water from the Whitcomb Avenue and Spectacle Pond wells. This would address both problems, but unfortunately, the Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Plant will not be fully operational until about November.
The process of bringing the plant online is complicated and takes time. System operators are currently testing the components to ensure they are functioning. The treatment plant is designed to first remove iron and manganese through a biological process and then filter out PFAS. Once the plant is online, regular, twice-per-year flushing can resume because there will be an adequate water supply to allow flushing and meet consumer needs.