Athol Water Division receives Public Water System Award

(From left) DEP Western Region Office Section Chief Andrew Kelly, DPW Assistant Director Paul Raskevitz, DPW Director Dick Kilhart, Environmental Compliance and Asset Manager Jennifer Shaw, Primary Treatment Operator Bob Hughes, and DEP Commissioner Bonnie Heiple on May 9 at a ceremony at which Athol’s Water Division received a Public Water System Award for the second year in a row.

(From left) DEP Western Region Office Section Chief Andrew Kelly, DPW Assistant Director Paul Raskevitz, DPW Director Dick Kilhart, Environmental Compliance and Asset Manager Jennifer Shaw, Primary Treatment Operator Bob Hughes, and DEP Commissioner Bonnie Heiple on May 9 at a ceremony at which Athol’s Water Division received a Public Water System Award for the second year in a row. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The town’s Public Water System Award, which it has received for two years in a row.

The town’s Public Water System Award, which it has received for two years in a row. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-23-2024 4:20 PM

ATHOL – For the second consecutive year, the town’s Water Division has been recognized for what the Department of Environmental Protection called “noteworthy performance” in recent years.

Athol is one of 45 public water systems to be receive a Public Water System Award from the DEP, and was in the Medium and Large Community Systems category. Department of Public Works Director Dick Kilhart met with the town’s Selectboard at its meeting Tuesday night to make the announcement.

“The Department of Environmental Protection has had an award program for public water systems for close to 30 years,” Kilhart told the Athol Daily News. “They recognize systems that have not had any type of regulatory violation within the previous five years.”

Kilhart said factors reviewed for the awards include timely collection and testing of bacteria samples, sampling for the presence of PFAS – polyfluoroalkyl substances, which studies have shown may be linked to harmful health effects – and ensuring that “water operators are appropriately licensed for the size and grade of system that your community actually has.”

“In our case, we have multiple operators,” said Kilhart, “but in a lot of communities, they don’t. But every system is supposed to have a minimum of two. Athol has a fair share of folks who are fully certified, and some of our newer folks are certified at in-training levels. We kind of work them through the process and then graduate them to full licenses as they become more experienced.”

Kilhart said the DEP also takes into consideration consumer confidence reporting when determining whether a water system receives recognition.

“That’s the annual EPA-required report that lists anything that may or may not be in your drinking water,” he said. “So, even if you have a defect, and it’s below a certain level – an EPA-approved model, let’s say – you have to report all of these things on the consumer confidence report.”

That report is posted at Town Hall, printed in the newspaper, and posted on the town website. Kilhart said the Water Division uses the report “not only as an informational tool, but we use it as kind of a public service announcement to let people know what we’re doing for projects, what we’ve completed for projects, who their water operators are, things like that.”

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Kilhart noted that he, Assistant DPW Director Paul Raskevitz, and Environmental Compliance and Asset Manager Jennifer Shaw take a hands-on approach in the Water Division. Asked about the frequency of testing, Kilhart said that water plant operators do daily testing and are required to take monthly bacteria samples. PFAS is now a quarterly sampling.

“But in a nutshell, our water operators are testing quality daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly – it’s an ongoing effort,” he said.

Kilhart expressed satisfaction with the idea that the community can rest assured the water they use is among the best in the state.

“We get a tremendous amount of support from the residents of Athol,” he said. “They support us at town meeting, and we do the best we can with the resources we have. We’ve kind of proven that with these recognition awards from the state regulatory agency.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.