, Gloucester, MA

October 3, 2013

Water color no work of art in Lanesville

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — Langsford Street resident Judith Wonson said the water in her house has had a yellowish color for about two months.

She doesn’t drink the city-supplied water, but it’s caused other problems. Some of her shirts have turned pink, along with the bottom of her shower curtains.

She’s not alone.

A number of Lanesville area residents have raised longtime concerns, saying that their water is sometimes brown or yellow. And the Gloucester Department of Public Works has acknowledged fielding a handful of calls about off-color water in the city’s northernmost village.

Nearby Wishart Road resident David Bowling said he has had similar problems with sink and toilet water, with a brownish yellow discoloration for about two months.

Gloucester Public Works Director Mike Hale said the water is safe to drink — that the color is merely an aesthetic issue.

“Water color is considered secondary to water quality,” he said.

Hale noted that water color issues are nothing new to Gloucester, and myriad factors can and have caused discoloration in the past, from nearby construction to the condition of water pipes — both Gloucester’s water lines and their connections that carry the water into homes.

“It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ problem,” Hale said, adding that water heater issues, how often water is used, what source the water is coming from, and the chemical processes used at the distribution and treatment plant are all part of the equation.

Hale said that, if there are problems, they tend to be localized. One resident may have perfectly clear water, while even a few houses down, the water might take on a brownish-yellow color, Hale said. Also, Hale said, water for seasonal residents may be discolored at first because it has been sitting in the pipes for so long, for example.

“Water from the reservoir is not clear ... water is not naturally clear,” Hale added. Chemicals are added to make the water more clear.

While Hale said his office has been getting calls about water discoloration, the best solution, he said, is keeping open the lines of communication. That can help officials determine where a problematic property is, and how to address it on a case-by-case basis.

Still, some are concerned with how long that process is taking,

“It’s constantly dirty, it goes from brown to yellow ... it’s hot and cold water,” Bowling said.

He said he drinks the water, but his wife does not, because there is sometimes a metallic taste or chlorine-like smell.

Bowling said he’s not a water expert, but he has worked in the Rockport Department of Public Works for 13 years; Wonson said her husband works for the Rockport DPW, as well.

Bowling, after talking with a DPW employee about the water-flushing system, suggested Gloucester use a different method of flushing water.

Hale said water flowing in different directions of the same pipe might be a cause of discoloration while the Plum Cove area has been without a water storage tank; he reiterated that water discoloration is a localized issue and could be caused by a number of different reasons.

Hale noted that the city has invested in many improvements and pointed out that some $90 million has been spent on wastewater and water-flow infrastructure in the past six years. He added that around 65 to 70 percent of water pipes in the city are new and within their life expectancy, including roughly 25,000 feet of a new water-main line.

He said as recently as a decade or two ago, many more of the city’s lines were past their life expectancy, but the city has gone through major undertakings in infrastructure.

“You can only do so much without turning the city upside down,” he said.

But that doesn’t stir confidence in some parts of Lanesville.

“It’s just not the way water is supposed to be,” Bowling said. “It’s supposed to be pristine.”

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at