Q&A Talking Water With Charles “Chuck” Dam, Director, Manchester Dept. of Public Works


CHARLES "CHUCK" DAM is director of Manchester’s 20-person Dept. of Public Works, responsible for operating and maintaining all “public works” including infrastructure, facilities and public spaces.  Before coming to Manchester, Dam worked for an engineering firm, specializing in water and wastewater systems for different clients and municipalities in Massachusetts and beyond.  He is a past president of the 1,300-member Massachusetts Water Works Association, (MWWA), and serves on the association’s board of directors.  Cricket Editor Erika Brown recently sat down with Chuck Dam to talk all things “water.” 

Q:  So, Chuck, can we begin with a “laymen’s view” of Manchester’s water and sewer infrastructure?  How does it all work?

A:  Well, for our drinking water, there are two main water sources.  There is the Lincoln Street well and Manchester’s water treatment plant facility up at upper Pine Street, which pulls water from Gravelly Pond.  At both places, raw water is treated before it's pumped into the distribution system, which is a collection of pipes that go all over town and includes the standpipe (water storage tank) at Moses Hill.  All that provides the water people get when they turn on their tap. The distribution system pipes are predominantly cast iron that were installed in the late 1800s and are still in service today, and we have been working to replace these pipes on an annual basis.   

Then, on the opposite side of the equation, whenever you flush the toilet, water goes down the drain, into the wastewater collection system (another network of pipes), as well as a few pump stations we have in town.  All that ends up via gravity to our treatment facility behind Town Hall on Church Street, where solids are removed combined with biological removal before it's all pumped to an outfall out into the harbor.

Greg Federspiel reported to the BOS that after decades of work and considerable investment, Mass DEP and US EPA is set to lift Manchester’s consent order mandating a moratorium on extending or adding new sewer hook ups.  Good news, yes?

Yes.  Mass DEP lifted the sewer moratorium in December, but Manchester will remain under the consent order until we provide an updated plan to Mass DEP and it is approved.  That will take about a month or so.

Some people may not know what the consent order is, or what it was for.

This consent order began in 2012, and it had to do with what’s called excessive “inflow and infiltration” (“I/I”) of rain and groundwater that was getting into our wastewater collection system and overwhelming the capacity of the treatment plant.  

Our problem was aging pipes, which happens in a seaside community where there is aggressive soil and a saline saltwater environment.  Further inland, we have issues with root intrusion and, of course, there’s the freeze-and-thaw cycles that can compromise pipes and the manholes connecting them.  So, when all these things break down pipes, groundwater and rainwater will infiltrate into the pipes. We’ve been working on these things for a long time, both completely replacing the pipes or rehabbing them by using a technique that lines them from the inside, essentially creating a brand-new pipe within the old one.  As a general rule of thumb, we should be updating (whether replacing or rehabbing) roughly two percent of our system a year, which would mean 100 percent of the system is renewed in a 50-year plan.

Nice.  OK, so onto drinking water.  I’ve read that testing and regulatory requirements for public water systems are dramatically more stringent than bottled drinking water oversight.

Yes, that’s true.  All water suppliers, especially in the Commonwealth, must routinely test, monitor, and be in compliance with all rules the state has in place for health and safety.  Our water quality in Manchester meets all of those standards, and even exceeds them.  We do monthly compliance reports to Mass DEP, our regulating agency, and report everything from pumping to chemical addition to residual testing.  On top of monthly reporting, we have other parameters we must meet for Lead and Copper testing, disinfection byproducts and so on.

Recently, the term “PFAS” came up in Greg Federspiel’s Town Administrator’s column.  What is PFAS?

PFAS testing is a new Mass DEP testing regulation.  It stands for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” which are basically man-made chemicals found in fire-fighting foams, non-stick materials, even some food packaging or textiles, like synthetic fleece.  The DEP’s PFAS standard is 20 parts per trillion, so we now test for six different PFAS molecules and the sum of them must be below that threshold.  To put it in perspective, that amount is essentially a grain of salt in 20 Olympic sized swimming pools.  Massachusetts has a strict PFAS threshold.  In fact, the US EPA’s PFAS standard is 70 parts per trillion.

What is Manchester testing at?

We are currently under the 20 parts per trillion level, at 19 parts per trillion.

Towns like Acton and Bridgewater have tested above 20 parts/trillion.  What if that happens in Manchester?

Well, we expect PFAS to be a stable number, but the levels can change seasonally or for other reasons.  Because of that, we are bringing in a consultant to look at the PFAS thresholds and determine what water treatment processes we may want to add to the (Lincoln Street) well to stay in compliance.  That's ongoing work, happening now.

So, Manchester just rebooted a 1989 committee, the “Water Resources Task Force” that will work for 12-18 months to update a comprehensive engineering report completed in 1990. 

Yes, the 1990 report by Horsley Witten was very thorough and well done.  It would cost in the six figures to do today, for sure.  One of the recommendations of that report was the establishment of a committee that could speak for different areas of the watershed and bring those issues to the community as they arise for further development in terms of protecting the watershed, or just even just monitoring different land uses within the watershed.

The BOS last year approved $25,000 to the task force to update that report.

A lot of the work completed for the report is still relevant, especially the methodology they used to evaluate the drinking water parameters, as well as land use applications within the watershed.  That said, we should take the opportunity to verify and reassess the parameters of the hydrogeologic aspects of the report as well as the various land uses within the watershed.  Also, in 1990 Horsley Witten completed actual physical “stress” testing (also known as drawdown testing) where various levels of water were pumped from the Lincoln Street Well to monitor and track the water draw down across the watershed.  It would be very interesting to run some of those same tests again to see if water is still coming from the same places.  It would also be useful to see if the media or gravel make-up of the aquifer itself is the same.

Finally, we can’t ignore that climate change is a new factor.  How will increasing intensity of precipitation change that, or prolonged periods of drought?  Or just lack of snowfall?  Things like that could have a profound impact on the groundwater that you don't see on a daily basis.

They’re lucky to have you, especially given your background in water. 

I appreciate that, thanks.  The group is working on getting all their volunteers in order.  I believe they will have a page on the town’s website that will have all the relevant historical information, including the 1990 report as well as the group’s endeavors.  It will be a lot of work to complete in a short amount of volunteer time.

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