Houlton Rotarians apprised of water quality

Diane Hines, Houlton Rotarian, Special to The County
4 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Rotary Club met for its luncheon meeting on Monday June 24, at Watson Hall. Rotarian Jane Torres hosted Bruce Berger of the Maine Water Utilities Association (MWUA) and Brian McGuire and Greg Sherman from the Houlton Water Company.

Berger has more than 35 years experience with the drinking water profession, either managing a water works distributing company or working as a client manager and owner for two different engineering firms. 

Currently at MWUA, he is the executive director and he has served on the Augusta Water District Board for over 10 years, on the New England Water Works Association in Milford, Massachusetts and nationally on the National Rural Water Association of Duncan, Oklahoma. MWUA was organized in 1925 and exists to advocate for the water supply profession.

Quoting Henry David Thoreau, Berger said, “I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.” Berger explained that tap water from the public water systems in the United States and Canada are among the safest in the world. Water utilities look at more than 100 different parameters that affect water at the tap. Licensed water professionals are stewards of public health and safety. Houlton Water Company is one of the finest water monitors in the state, according to Berger, and has been recognized as such.

The state structure has the Maine Public Utilities Commission overseeing the financial aspects of the Maine Drinking Water Program and the program is part of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. MPUC approves all rates and rate structure. There are around 1,900 hundred public water systems in Maine and most are small scale companies.

Most companies use groundwater as their source, since Maine has a large supply measuring in trillions of gallons and groundwater is less susceptible to external contamination. Issues with groundwater are naturally occurring hardness, iron and manganese, sulfur sometimes, methane occasionally and salinity occurs mostly in the southern States. Groundwater is pumped into the distribution and storage conveyance systems and treated depending on the level of microbial organisms present. The most common treatment is chlorine.

Municipal needs for water include fire protection. In northern Maine the lines must be buried six to 10 feet in the ground below frost. These systems have to be replaced about every 100 years since necessary flushing of the pipes to remove sedimentation, algae and other contaminants can cause scouring of the water main. 

Funding for these updates can come from the State Revolving loan fund or SRF or through federal state or private grants. SRF was founded in the 1990’s to assist quasi-municipal water districts. In 2019 there have been loan requests totalling $44 million of which $23 million was available and around half of these requests were met.

It is becoming more and more difficult to replace aging systems. Berger suggested that people consider how economical it is to purchase drinking water delivered to the home or business at an average of less than a penny per day per gallon compared to buying a gallon of water in a store. 

The Houlton Water Company is there 24 hours, seven days a week year-round to maintain that continuous flow from the tap for drinking and cooking water to washing the car or watering the garden. Berger asked folks to consider what a great job HWC is doing for the community of Houlton.