Bow residents grapple with salty water
Over the 16 years he has lived on Brown Hill Road in Bow, Max Mayo has spent thousands of dollars to maintain a well that, even when operating correctly, he’s apprehensive about using. He purchases bottled water to drink and cook, and rarely, if ever, waters his lawn. When he washes dishes or his car, he wipes the surfaces dry as quickly as possible.
The problem, Mayo said, is salty water.
Dick Robertson, who lives a few doors down, has a similar story.
“If you’re taking a shower and get a mouthful of water, it’s like taking a gulp of the ocean,” he said.
As does Anup Shah, another neighbor, who said he’s had to replace about half the pipes in his home over the past decade because of sodium corrosion.
Their concerns aren’t new. For decades, residents on Brown Hill Road have grappled with brackish groundwater – likely the product of road salt sweeping down the graded road and into wells during winter months, according to residents and town officials. A study commissioned by the town in 1996 found elevated levels of sodium in several residents’ wells, and determined it hadn’t originated from a natural source.
But more than a decade after officials began mediation efforts – financing repairs and the drilling of new wells, curbing salt usage on snowy roads – residents say conditions haven’t improved.
“None of us are mad at the town,” said Robertson, who together with Mayo and others raised the issue before selectmen last month. “It’s just a situation. Public safety – making the road safe for winter travel – is No. 1, and that’s the town’s main concern. And they do, they take good care of it.”
But Robertson, who is 80, said he’s considering selling his home and concerned that his water troubles will undermine the property’s value.
“I’m not looking forward to losing money on my house for something like this,” he said.
Town Manager David Stack said that when officials first agreed to fund the construction of new wells – he is in the process of determining how many were built – an agreement was made that homeowners would cover ongoing maintenance costs. But residents note that over time, as corrosion becomes a greater problem, those costs have mounted.
This spring, Mayo said he spent $8,000 to replace two well pumps, one of which had to be imported from Denmark. Robertson said he was told he needed a new $1,500 water purification system. Shah estimated that he spends $1,500 to $2,000 annually on inspections and maintenance on his water softener, filters and an acid neutralizer.
“I’m not one to question it: If it’s in my house, I take care of it,” Robertson said. “But when it comes to $1,500 to fix a problem that really isn’t of my doing, then something needs to be done.”
Selectmen have responded by asking Stack to research previous corrective measures and present what he learns at their meeting later this month. They have not agreed to take any specific action.
“I don’t think this is a problem unique to Bow,” selectmen Chairman Jack Crisp said. “You try to do the best you can. You don’t want to do any harm to any individual homeowner, but you have to keep the roads clear.”
Tim Sweeney, director of public works, said road crews in Bow typically use a 4-to-1 ratio of sand to salt when clearing roadways – he would not give specifics but said that was “reduced significantly” from years past. But Brown Hill Road is at a higher elevation than much of the town and receives more snow as a result, which can require greater attention, Sweeney said.
He said the town has tried alternative de-icing materials, including a molasses-like solution, but with little success.
Mayo said he hopes the town will determine how widespread the problem is and whether sodium levels have changed since the 1996 study was completed. Beyond that, he said he’s open to any lasting solutions, such as storm drains or a community well drilled at a higher elevation.
The town has a capital reserve fund to finance private well repairs. It has $24,000 in it, Stack said.
Members of the Bow Drinking Water Committee have offered to help conduct a survey of residents in the area and explore the costs of various solutions.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)