SKOWHEGAN — A construction project at the ponds suppling Skowhegan with drinking water — the possible source of contamination —wrapped up in late December with the removal of a dam and the earth that surrounds it.

The Maine Water Skowhegan site was a possible cause of a soapy odor and taste reported in November and prompted a do-not-drink order.

Mark Vannoy, vice president of Maine Water Co., which operates 11 water treatment facilities serving a dozen public water systems with 32,000 customers across the state, said in an email Wednesday that the replacement of the Upper Pond dam was complete and placed in service Dec. 22.

“This marks the end of a project that included a state-issued do-not-drink order in Skowhegan for five days in mid-November,” Vannoy said. “As Maine Water worked to resolve the issue, we received extraordinary cooperation, support and collaboration from all involved.”

On the evening of Nov. 12, 2020, Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention issued a “do not drink” order for customers in Skowhegan. Maine Water Co. worked with Maine CDC’s Drinking Water Program alongside the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the cause of a sheen on the surface of two ponds and the cause of the soapy odor and taste in the drinking water. The two spring-fed ponds supply water to the community.

The order affected about 6,000 residents throughout the town who were asked to use tap water for only non-consumption purposes, such as bathing, laundry and dishwashing.

The cause of the odor and taste of the water is unclear, but Maine Water has been able to pinpoint the origin of the problem, a construction site at the dam that separates the upper and lower supply ponds. 

Prior to the issue with the water, Maine Water Co.’s Skowhegan site was working on two projects, one to replace the old pump station on the Kennebec River and bring a new water line to the plant and the ponds, the other to replace the water flow structure between the upper and lower ponds.

The dam and the earth around it between the Upper and Lower ponds that supply Skowhegan’s drinking water was removed and replaced in an effort to resolve contamination that led to a do-not-drink order in November 2020. The project wrapped up in December and the new dam was in service. Dec. 22, 2020. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

On Wednesday, Vannoy said that the replacement of the water flow structure at the Upper Pond was a planned improvement to the Skowhegan infrastructure and is part of a comprehensive list of water system improvements outlined in the utility’s capital improvement plan.

“That work was in progress when an unusual odor was detected in the water distribution system on Nov. 12,” Vannoy said. “Our investigation of the odor included a detailed watershed survey and the elimination of other potential sources of the odor that could theoretically occur if there was a cross connection or backflow event in the system.”

The investigation focused on the work done at the dam between the Upper and Lower ponds that had been completed days before the odor was detected. The dam controls water flow between the two ponds.

While the work was being done on the flow-control structure, the lower pond was supplemented with water from the Kennebec River, which has historically been used to supplement the supply system, making up about 50% of the supply during summer months.

In working with their design engineer and contractor and Maine’s Drinking Water Program, the company decided to remove the dam and the earth around it as the possible source of the contamination. The design of the new dam that replaces the old flow-control structure was modified to eliminate water flow that was undermining the structure.

All of the materials used have been certified that they are safe to use with drinking water. All materials were reviewed again when the issue arose. Additionally, all materials are approved for use in drinking water applications.

“It is important to note that extensive water quality testing documented that before, during and after the do not drink order, Maine Water’s Skowhegan water system met all state and federal standards for drinking water,” Vannoy said. “Maine Water continues to regularly collect and test samples from the water system to ensure continued compliance with drinking water standards.”

Vannoy said that a courtesy credit has been applied to Skowhegan customers’ bills and that the company had donated funds to Skowhegan’s fire, police and recreation departments.

While the order was in place, water was distributed at the Community Center on Poulin Drive, with trucks arriving with Poland Spring bottled water. Distribution continued throughout the weekend and up until the order was lifted on Nov. 17 with the assistance of Connecticut Water Co., Maine Water’s sister company; Kingfield’s bottling plant and Hannaford. Helping with the distribution process were Skowhegan Fire Department, Skowhegan Police Department, Skowhegan Parks & Recreation Center staff and other volunteers.

Mike Poulin, site superintendent at Maine Water’s operation in Skowhegan, previously said that around 150,000 bottles of water were distributed while the order was in place.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: