After move from lake to well water, Tupper Lake looks to switch back
By Zachary Matson
The village of Tupper Lake plans to shift its municipal water source back to Tupper Lake surface water just five years after moving to wells, a slow-moving transition set to unfold in the face of widespread community concern about carcinogens and discoloration.
The village this summer tested a new filtration system to treat water pulled directly from Tupper Lake and is currently working with engineers to scale up the filtration approach with an overhaul of an old water treatment plant on Maddox Lane.
But that fix, which is partly funded with nearly $5 million in state support and estimated to cost around $9 million total, could still be years away from providing residents with surface water again.
Meanwhile, residents are sharing pictures of yellow and brown water, fearing carcinogenic chlorine treatment byproducts and growing frustrated with communication from local and state officials.
“We keep sending them pictures and contacting them all and trying to not let up on them,” said Lori Wilson, who created a Facebook page that has served as a repository of water complaints.
Village leaders have said they are hearing the complaints and working to remedy the problem. Residents over the summer shared concerns directly with lawmakers for the region, Sen. Dan Stec and Assemblyman Billy Jones.
Like other communities, Tupper Lake over the past decade faced a decision: upgrade its surface water treatment plant or switch to a groundwater source. The state offered more funding to move to groundwater, so the community drilled wells. Within less than two years, though, that water started to turn brown and yellow for many users – the result of an interaction with iron in the ground. State health officials say the water is still safe to drink, but it is not meeting water clarity standards. The wells also do not draw enough water to meet Tupper Lake demand.
Separately, water from Simon Pond, a source the village treats with chlorine, comes with a warning that it contains chlorine byproducts above state standards. Exposure to the treatment byproducts over decades can elevate health risks, including cancer.
“I don’t cook or drink with it,” Wilson said of her water.
Garrett Kopp owns Tupper Lake-based company Birch Boys and relies on quality water to make tinctures distributed across the country. The business is growing and so is Kopp’s need for water. He said at times he has cleared out local stores of bottles of distilled water or filled a holding tank with water drawn from nearby freshwater springs. In the long run, he hopes to install a filtration system and use the public water he pays for.
“This isn’t right. We should definitely be able to use the municipal water supply,” Kopp said. “I pay a monthly water bill, it would be nice to be able to use it.”
Val DeGrace, who works as a teacher’s aide in local schools, said she doesn’t trust the public water and goes through water filters at an alarming pace. She said gunk builds around the faucets if she doesn’t clean it regularly and fears long term exposure could be a health risk.
“I can’t even give my grandkids a bath when they get here,” DeGrace said.
Mary Fontana takes over as mayor Dec. 1. She said outgoing mayor Paul Mauron has done a lot of work to advance the solution but acknowledged it will still take more time and money to see it through. Fontana said she planned to focus on improving communications with residents and empathized with the experiences of poor water quality.
“If the water is coming out of your tap and is brown in color and smells like rotten eggs, you are not going to drink that water, not going to bathe your kids in it, not going to give it to your pets,” Fontana said. “It is the primary issue this community faces.”
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