Our View: A Commendable Response

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

There are few government functions more important than providing clean drinking water for residents. It is, arguably, the foundation of a liveable community, a municipal operation that is, when working smoothly, routine and taken for granted by most folks.

But when something goes wrong, the consequences can be dire. Just ask the folks in Flint, Mich.

So when residents in North Harwich noticed that their water was foaming last week, town officials, especially the folks who run the water department, sprang into action, issuing a town-wide Do Not Drink order. In a matter of hours, the source of the contamination was identified and the area of concern narrowed to about 350 homes in North Harwich. The town was able to secure bottled water, which was quickly distributed to those impacted. The contamination was flushed out of the system and by Thursday afternoon, just a day after the problem was discovered, the water was declared safe to consume.

People are quick to criticize government — at all levels — because when it works, like the routine delivery of clean drinking water, it’s under the radar. But when something goes wrong, plenty of fingers are pointed. In this case, everyone did their jobs and came clean (so to speak) about the source of the problem. The contamination was caused by a quirky situation unlikely to recur: a fire at the Dennis town line, where Harwich and Dennis fire hydrants were used and a pressure differential caused firefighting foam to backflow into the Harwich water system.

Fortunately, no one apparently fell ill due to the foam, which is biodegradable and doesn’t contain PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals that used to be in firefighting foam; the Harwich department got rid of the latter foam several years ago. Harwich Fire Chief David LeBlanc issued a policy change this week stipulating that fire hydrant use will be shut down when foam is used in the future.

This was an unfortunate accident that fortunately was addressed swiftly and competently. We commend the town, especially the water department and outgoing superintendent Dan Pelletier, for its response.