There are some basic services we’ve come to expect from our local governments. We want the snow plowed off our streets, good schools for our children, and fire and police protection to keep us safe.

We also expect that when we turn on our faucets, clean, clear water flows out. It’s this last item that has some who live in Emmitsburg frustrated and angry. And we don’t blame them.

About a dozen residents showed up at an Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to push for an end to the brown water that’s been coming from their pipes since late October. Though the issue wasn’t on the town’s agenda that night, they forced the issue. And good for them.

As Commissioner Tim O’Donnell, who defended the town staff for working hard to address the issue but admitted that it’s no surprise that residents are upset, said, “If someone has Hershey milk coming out of their spigots, then of course they have to question it.”

But even after what appears to have been an open and honest discussion, finding a quick answer to the problem is about as murky as the water has sometimes been.

It’s been nearly three months since residents first noticed the darkish-tinged water coming from their spigots. The discovery came after the Provincial House, the Daughters of Charity center, was given permission to flush its fire hydrants and when work on water lines at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s national training center was done without the town’s permission. Plus, the town suspects someone from out of town hooked up to the town’s system and stole water.

Apparently, this series of events, coupled with a lack of rain, stirred up natural sediment and rust from the pipes, turning the water a brownish tint when people turned on the faucet. It’s the kind of problem that Emmitsburg and other towns with older underground water pipes can have.

In the short term, town officials are testing the water, though even that’s a challenge. While issues with the town’s treatment plant have been ruled out, the occurrences of brown water are mostly random, with one resident having an issue at their home while their next-door neighbor doesn’t. That’s got to be frustrating for town officials, too.

Still, the problem continues, and, as obvious as this might sound, it has to end. If that means bringing in county or state experts to help figure it out, so be it. At Monday’s meeting, county officials offered to lend support.

An emergency meeting to update residents, an idea suggested by commissioners, is a good step, even if we wish it had happened a month sooner. We would invite county health department officials to that meeting, too.

But while the town and residents look for answers, the long-term solution is not going to come easy for Emmitsburg — more investments will be needed to upgrade the town’s underground infrastructure.

And it’s pretty safe to assume that Emmitsburg isn’t the only place in the area where the issue of a decaying water infrastructure is or will soon be a critical issue. A 2017 report by the American Water Works Association estimated that $1 trillion would be necessary to maintain and expand water infrastructure demands in the United States over the next 25 years.

Town Commissioner Frank Davis told our reporter last month that improving the town’s water pipes underground would probably cost millions of dollars, through they would seek grants and other options to keep from raising water fees. But the work has to be done, regardless of what it might cost.

(5) comments

cleanrunoff

How do they know it was someone "from out of town" that stole the water? Have they accounted for the whereabouts of all the town residents at the time of the theft? Seems like an odd statement to make. And I'm not sure how a "lack of rain" influences the water system downstream of the treatment plant.

Lev928

It's not uncommon for certain businesses to illegally take water from a fire hydrant that's located "out of the way". Water delivery services, pool companies, construction companies; it's a common occurrence nationwide. It's also well-documented that illegal marijuana growers tap into public water systems to tend their crops. It's theft regardless, whether it's a resident or someone from "out of town".

DickD

If this is truly from rusted water pipes other towns must have this issue occasionally. How did they resolve it without putting in new pipes or is that the only way to resolve rusted pipes.

Lev928

Dick, it happens frequently from aged pipes (older ones made from corrosive metals such as iron) as well as from flushing public systems, fire department use and the like. It's not uncommon at all. In some instances, such reports in Emmitsburg could be isolated to a single home with old rusted pipes, an old water heater or something similar.

DickD

So, how does it get resolved?

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