Whitcomb Ave Treatment Plant
IMPROVING WATER QUALITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The three-year project to improve the quality of water in Littleton is nearing completion. The new Whitcomb Avenue Water Treatment Facility is on track to remove both the primary cause of discoloration and a newly regulated chemical contaminant by the year’s end.
The water treatment plant will remove iron and manganese, two naturally occurring minerals prevalent in the Whitcomb Avenues wells. A buildup of manganese is the primary cause of discolored water, which mostly occurs after water main breaks or other system disruptions.
Filtering the minerals from the raw water combined with flushing the minerals already in the distribution system will improve the appearance and taste of the drinking water. While close to achieving this goal, there remain critical milestones to meet in the next couple of months.
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.
- This plant will utilize biological filtration to remove iron and manganese and granular activated carbon to remove PFAS
- Treatment plant will have a total capacity of 1.8 MGD
- Project will include construction of a 3.5-mile-long raw water transmission main to connect the Spectacle Pond well to the new treatment plant, and upgrades to the existing Whitcomb Ave Wells.
- LWD received a $200,000 grant from MassDEP for assistance with PFAS treatment pilot testing and design.
- The entire project will be funded through the State Revolving Fund Loan Program which includes a 0% interest loan.
- Construction is expected to be completed in Spring 2023.
THE PLAN CONSISTS OF THREE MAJOR PARTS:
- Replace the existing drinking water wells on Whitcomb Avenue with new wells in the same location. These wells provide 45% of the public drinking water in Littleton and are the only town wells without a treatment plant.
- Construct a water treatment plant across Whitcomb Avenue from the wells. The site is the vacant lot adjacent to the VFW property. This location is outside the Zone 1 aquifer protection area and uphill from the wells, keeping it outside the 100-year flood plain.
- Remove the old highway department garage and the pavement on property adjacent to the well site and restore the wetlands area to a natural habitat that supports wildlife.
THE PLAN MEETS MANY GOALS OF THE LITTLETON WATER DEPARTMENT, INCLUDING:
- Improving the source of water by constructing new wells.
- Treating the water to remove naturally occurring, nuisance minerals, including manganese which is the cause of staining of laundry and fixtures, a common complaint from LWD users in the area. The plan will also remove iron and arsenic. (Please note: the water is safe to drink and meets all water quality standards. With treatment, the quality will improve.)
- LWD is a steward of the environment and works to conserve land in order to protect drinking water sources. LWD holds 45 acres of undeveloped land for water source protection. The removal of the old highway garage and impervious surfaces will help to improve water infiltration into the aquifer, improve natural filtration, and reduce run-off.
When initially conceived, the idea was to place the treatment plant at the well site. However, early in the design process, it became clear that early concept presented complications. The biggest problem was the well site falls in the 100-year flood plain, which would add $1 million to the project cost, according to engineering estimates.
Engineers recommended siting the water treatment plant on 2.75 acres located across the street and owned by LWD for the purpose of the water system.
LWD acquired the site in 1989 through a state Aquifer Land Acquisition Program, managed by the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection. Prior to making the decision to site the plant across the street, LWD consulted with the MassDEP, which has concurred the site is preferable for the water treatment plant.
THE FOLLOWING SUPPORT THE PROJECT:
- The Littleton Board of Water Commissioners
- The Littleton Conservation Commission
- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
THE COST OF THE PROJECT
- The project will be paid for by the LWD ratepayers through the water bills.
- In 2018, Town Meeting voters authorized LWD to borrow $7 million for the project. To date, $250,000 has been spent on design and engineering.
- Building the treatment plant at the well site would add an estimated $1 million to the project cost.
THE PROCESS OF THE PROJECT
Like any building project, public or private, in Littleton, the LWD has gone through the process of seeking approval of town boards, including the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission. LWD has held two meetings with abutters and has adjusted the plan where feasible to account for feedback.
The plan adjustments include:
- The layout of the building on the property was adjusted.
- Additional landscaping and greenery will obscure the view of the building.
Q: Why build the treatment plant on an undeveloped lot?
A: The property is a 2.75 acre field owned by Littleton Water for the purposes of providing clean and safe drinking water, and this plan uses it for that purpose. The lot is uphill and across the street from the well site. This removes the plant from the 100-year flood plain, wetland resource areas, and the Zone 1 aquifer protection area (the 400 foot radius around drinking water wells).
Q: Did Town Meeting vote to site the treatment plant at the well site?
A: Town Meeting voted in May 2018 to authorize the LWD to borrow $7 million for the project. While the proposed location at the time was at the well site, engineering later showed a better, less-expensive location was LWD property across the street. The recommendation by the engineers and LWD staff was presented to the Board of Water Commissioners at public meeting, and the project has gone through the Planning Board and Conservation Commission permitting processes.
Q: What will be the impact of the citizens’ petition at Town Meeting on May 6 to place the treatment plant site under Article 97 conservation restriction?
A: Placement of a conservation restriction on the LWD land would remove from the Board of Water Commissioners the ability to use the land for the purposes of a water treatment plant. It would force the Commissioners to consider more expensive and less environmentally beneficial alternatives.