Proposal could ease costs of water filtration system in Webster

BY: Oct 31, 2017 

State Rep. Joseph McKenna, R-Webster, filed “an act implementing a home water filtration system,” which had its first hearing Tuesday on Beacon Hill by the Joint Committee on Revenue. State Sen. Ryan C. Fattman, R-Webster, sits on the committee and is a bill supporter.

WEBSTER – As the town moves to build a filtration plant, in hopes of remedying rusty-colored public water in certain neighborhoods, a local legislator has proposed to augment that effort with a bill that would afford them a tax rebate for the purchase of home-based filtration systems.

State Rep. Joseph McKenna, R-Webster, filed “an act implementing a home water filtration system,” which had its first hearing Tuesday on Beacon Hill by the Joint Committee on Revenue. State Sen. Ryan C. Fattman, R-Webster, sits on the committee and is a bill supporter.

The proposal aims to provide rebates to residents in Massachusetts of up to $750 in any tax year, and any excess credit may be applied over the following tax years, up to an aggregate maximum of $1,500.

Mr. McKenna said home filtration systems cost approximately $1,000 to $4,000.

He told a reporter Monday during an event in Sturbridge that if someone in the Bay State bought a bad car, they are protected by so-called lemon laws, and if someone bought a faulty item in a retail store, they can simply return it. But consumers of discolored water have no recourse, other than to install filtration systems at their own expense.

“In Webster, the water quality is so poor that people are getting billed for water, but they’re getting brown and unclean, unsafe water,” he said. “This is a consumer protection piece that says if you take action on your own to try and remedy that situation, we as a state are going to give you something back.”

In Webster, the problem occurs between neighborhoods along Park Avenue Elementary School and Town Hall. The town has said that it is caused by iron and manganese built up in aging pipes. While the water isn’t aesthetically pleasing, it is safe to drink, the town has said.

Mr. McKenna described the problem as hit or miss in Webster.

“Any day you turn on the faucet it could come out anywhere from clear to a dark murky brown, to a copper,” he said. “It has major implications for if you’re doing laundry. It’s ruined countless loads. The (state Department of Environmental Protection) says it’s not a health concern, but there are questions about whether we should be bathing in it, or feeding it to dogs. Certainly consumption is a concern.”

Mr. McKenna said his water has been rusty on occasion and that he resides at “the end of the line,” where the problem is worst. He said his water has “almost a dead fish odor” that subsides only after running the tap for a while.

He said his mother also lives in Webster and had to install a home filtration system.

“I know many, many people have done the same,” he said.

As to whether the legislative proposal has gained traction with his colleagues in the Statehouse, Mr. McKenna said he’s shown them photos of dirty water posted by residents on social media. He said it’s convinced fellow lawmakers to do something.

“When you have a chance to actually see the quality, or lack thereof, of the water coming out, it really starts to move people,” Mr. McKenna said.

Mr. Fattman said the proposal is a huge priority, also for personal reasons. He said he used to live on School Street for two years and had loads of laundry destroyed. People in his household refused to drink the water because of the way it looked.

“The idea of investing in your own home, and the quality of your water, which we need to survive, and getting some sort of tax benefit for that is essential,” Mr. Fattman said.

The senator noted this is a statewide concern.

“When I was going to grad school, I lived in Medford, and we had a very similar situation, where the water quality was terrible,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Webster or Winchendon or Winchester, it’s about the quality of water which sustains us to live.”

Because the bill was filed late, Mr. Fattman said, it took political maneuvering by both him and Mr. McKenna to make sure it got heard Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Webster is constructing a new water filtration system near Memorial Beach for an estimated $10 million, using money from a state revolving fund loan to be repaid over 20 years, generally at 2 percent interest.

The plan calls for completing construction in the spring.

On Monday, voters at a special town meeting approved an extra $350,000 that was needed for the plant. Town Administrator Douglas C. Willardson said a construction contract could be signed in the next few weeks.

Mr. Willardson said complaints about water quality have been “easing up” lately, as the town has completed its last round of hydrant flushing, and this week it began “ice pigging” lines in a process that helps clear the water in the worst areas of town.


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