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Berwick issues drinking water advisory due to ongoing drought conditions

Kids and teens should get two to three quarts of water per day, via food or drink, research suggests.
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Kids and teens should get two to three quarts of water per day, via food or drink, research suggests.

Ongoing severe drought conditions in York County and other parts of southern Maine are causing problems for the town of Berwick. The town's drinking water is no longer safe for children to drink.

The Berwick Water Department relies on the Salmon Falls River to deliver drinking water to its 900 customers. But when the river flow drops, levels of the naturally occurring element manganese begin to rise.

Town manager James Bellissimo said that makes the water look tea-colored, or even brown. And manganese levels now exceed the .3 milligrams per liter threshold that EPA recommends for children.

"The advisory level for children is .3 and above, today it's at .558," Bellissimo said.

This is still within levels considered safe for adults, but children are being advised not to drink the water. Bellissimo said the town is providing bottled water for residents. It's also using a $2.8M congressional earmark, and a $1.2 million town bond to fund a pre-treatment plant to prevent this problem in the future. The facility could be online within two years.

Bellissimo said the new plant will be useful as a changing climate is bringing less snow and more hot weather. Meanwhile, he said he's hoping for rain.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.