James Rada, Jr.
The Town of Emmitsburg
found and repaired one leak in its water lines that may have been causing the
brown tap water problems some residents have been experiencing for months. A
second leak under Waynesboro Pike has been identified, but, because of its
location, repair crews haven’t been able to fix it yet.
Residents started complaining about brown water in late October. At first, it was believed to be a result of hydrant flushing, but when the problem continued, town staff realized it was something else.
Water drawn at the plant and various points in town was tested for lead, copper, chlorine, turbidity, bacteria, and pH.
“All testing came back within the limits requested by MDE and EPA,” Commissioner Frank Davis said during the Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners meeting in January.
Despite being within the accepted standards, the water was obviously discolored. Residents had light-colored clothes washed in the water ruined. The water also stained tubs and sinks. Particulates clogged filters.
These frustrated residents showed up at the January meeting to voice their displeasure. Many of them complained about having to buy filters and bottled water because of the brown water. Others worried about what drinking the water might do to them or their children.
Allison Calhoun had her water in Brookfield tested independently and found it had high levels of iron and manganese in it. She also said it had black flecks in it that stained her tub and smelled like tar.
She said that despite staff saying the water was safe, “When presented to town staff, no one would even consider drinking it.”
Barrett Turner, West Main Street, said, “A filter that would last me a month, I’ve been changing every week for my house.”
Some residents demanded compensation, not only from their increased water usage from trying to flush their water lines but also for the costs of bottled water and filters. While the commissioners seemed open to this, they did not know what they could legally do. A leak on North Seton Avenue was repaired the middle of January, but fixing a leak under Waynesboro Pike has been delayed.
The commissioners held a special meeting on January 22 to discuss the water problem, the repairs, and the possible compensation due to the brown water. The commissioners also talked about the issue of tuberculation, which could be causing problems in the older water lines. The problem is when pipes installed before 1952 begin to corrode and pieces of the corrosion fall into the water during times of high water flow through the pipes.
Both the Maryland Department of the Environment and Frederick County are working with the town to fix the problem.
“We’ve got to make this our No. 1 priority,” Commissioner Frank Davis said.
The big problem for Emmitsburg is finding the funds to make the repairs. The water fund has been operating at a deficit, and money in the general fund can’t legally be used for water line repairs.