For at least five years, Watertown officials have been wrestling with how to remove contaminants from the city’s drinking water.
Samples taken from one location in 2017 revealed a level of trihalomethanes that exceeded the allowed limit, according to a story published April 11, 2017, by he Watertown Daily Times. TTHM is a byproduct of chlorine disinfectant used to treat drinking water of bacteria and viruses.
The city draws its drinking water from the Black River. Water Department officials said they were working to resolve the problem.
In July 2018, the city received an administrative order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to demonstrate how it was correcting this problem and complying with government regulations. Aside from TTHM, the water supply also has a higher than permitted level of haloacetic acids.
These contaminants are formed when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter, such as tree leaves, algae or other plants in surface water, according to information from the EPA. City residents are periodically notified of the presence of high levels of TTHM and HAA5 through postcards sent to residences.
Another notice was sent recently, letting residents know that high levels of TTHM and HAA5 remain in the drinking water supply. Authorities said there is no need to boil water or take any immediate action.
“The disinfection of drinking water by chlorination ‘is beneficial to the public,’ according to the notice. According to the latest violation notice posted online, studies have suggested that drinking chlorinated water with levels in excess of the federal standard for 20 to 30 years is associated with an increased risk for certain types of cancer, low birth weight, miscarriages and birth defects,” an article published Wednesday by the Watertown Daily Times reported. “In December, the average for the prior four quarters was 90.8 micrograms per liter. The maximum allowable annual level is 80 micrograms per liter. City Manager Kenneth A. Mix reiterated what he has said in the past — the city will spend at least $3 million to correct the problem and has already started working on it. To try to resolve the issue, GHD Consulting Services, Syracuse, is conducting a pilot program at the facility. Equipment for the pilot program has been delivered to the plant and installed. … GHD was awarded a $706,900 contract to design the project, with the remainder going toward construction. ... According to the notices, the situation is not an emergency.”
We understand that there appears to be no lurking threat to public safety due to the high level of these contaminants.
It usually takes many years for problems to develop, and officials hope to have a resolution soon.
However, the City Council didn’t make this any kind of priority until earlier this year. While Water Department personnel have been examining ways to fix the problem, members of the council became distracted with the notion of foolishly spending money on shiny baubles that the city does not need.
Council members Patrick J. Hickey, Clifford G. Olney III and Lisa A. Ruggiero seem determined to commit the city to either repairing or reconstructing the William J. Flynn Municipal Swimming Pool at North Elementary School to the tune of at least $2.8 million. They also recently initiated the process of buying the Watertown Golf Club from developer Michael A. Lundy to the tune of $3.4 million.
Hickey, Olney and Ruggiero have been blinded to the reality of the city’s financial situation as a result of money coming into Watertown from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. This was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion package passed by Congress in March 2021.
The three council members want to pay for these two projects with CSLFRF money the city has been receiving. Doing so would be reckless and absurd.
Watertown already has two swimming pools — there is no need for a third. Each pool is located within 2 miles of the others. Spending a few minutes to travel to either the Steve D. Alteri Municipal Swimming Pool at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds or the pool at Thompson Park is a minor inconvenience at best.
There is no reason for the city to take possession of and operate the Watertown Golf Club. It seems to be doing well as a private enterprise. People who enjoy golf also may join Ives Hill Country Club and play there, so residents are not being deprived access to this recreational activity.
The rallying cry behind the move for the city to acquire the Watertown Golf Club is the supposed need to “protect” Thompson Park from future development. This is nonsense.
Thompson Park is owned and controlled by the city, so no one has the authority to develop anything there. Some residents don’t like the thought of the land adjacent to Thompson Park being developed, but there are reasons to reject this argument as well.
Lundy owns 67 acres of land on which he runs the Watertown Golf Club; he also leases 66 acres of city-owned property for the full 18-hole course. His land is privately owned, and he or any future owner should be permitted to develop it if they choose. It would be outrageous for the city to spend $3.4 million merely to satisfy the aesthetic sensibilities of a handful of misguided activists.
The city declared its intention to apply for a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to resolve the drinking water problem. This is good, but it shows that council members have their priorities all wrong.
The full cost of resolving the water-quality issue is not yet known. Water treatment plant upgrades can cost tens of millions of dollars.
The City Council must allocate what money the city has to fix major problems facing residents, not fulfilling their wish list of nice but unnecessary things. Focus more seriously on resolving the water filtration issue and spend taxpayer funds on this. A third pool and golf course are wasteful items that the city cannot afford.