Board of Health issues outdoor watering ban 

by Karina Coombs

Effective immediately, the Board of Health (BOH) has voted unanimously to issue an outdoor watering ban. On September 12 the BOH issued the following statement: “In light of the continuing Drought Warning for northeast Massachusetts, the Carlisle Board of Health has issued a ban on outdoor water use effective immediately and until further notice. This includes watering lawns and gardens, filling pools, washing cars or buildings. Outdoor water uses not subject to the mandatory restriction include health and safety reasons, production of food, maintenance of livestock and when necessary to the core functions of a business. Some local households have been experiencing water shortages. This ban will help to ensure the drinking water supply for our community. Residents are also asked to practice water conservation measures in the home. Thank you for your cooperation.” 

The board decided on the ban at its September 7 meeting, pending an update on the drought determination by the state. “We do not have 1,700 individual water supplies,” explains Health Agent Linda Fantasia. “There is really a single groundwater supply for the town.”

State officials issue drought status

Secretary Matthew Beaton of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) declared a Drought Warning on August 12 for the central and northeast regions of the state, including Carlisle, based on earlier recommendations from the Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force (DMTF). The task force is comprised of federal and state officials, data collection and drought response agencies as well as public health and safety professionals. The possible drought ratings issued by the EEA are: Normal, Advisory, Watch, Warning and Drought Emergency. A different set of ratings is issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor (see sidebar).

At its September 8 meeting, the task force recommended keeping the current drought status of these regions because groundwater levels remain low despite some periods of rain. Carlisle is part of the northeast region. The task force also recommended upgrading the drought watch status for the southeast region to a drought warning and Cape Cod and the islands from advisory to a drought watch. Beaton announced acceptance of these new recommendations on September 9 in an EEA press release.

BOH discussion of ban

The board did not discuss how the ban would be enforced. In considering the ban, which would have been voluntary had the drought status been downgraded, members of the BOH noted that private wells were exempt in neighboring communities. Billerica, Westford, Sudbury, Burlington and Groton all have outdoor watering bans of various levels, but specifically exclude private wells from these restrictions in their town bylaws, often requiring that signage denote the use of a private well so monitoring agencies do not receive watering violation reports. 

Some communities in the state do include private wells under outdoor watering bans and given the current drought conditions others are starting to reconsider adding them. Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz was also quoted in the EEA press release specifically asking that private well users reduce indoor and outdoor water use given the low ground water levels in parts of the state. 

“I think people don’t realize that groundwater is connected,” said BOH member Todd Brady. “Just because you have your own well doesn’t give you free license to drain an aquifer.” BOH member Todd Thorsen added that a number of wells had run dry over the summer and used the example of pollutants traveling in the groundwater from the former gas station on Lowell Street to illustrate that water traveled. BOH Chair Lee Storrs added that even with additional rain, he did not see groundwater levels recharging quickly in the weeks to come.

Reached after the meeting, Health Agent Linda Fantasia explained that the last outdoor watering ban was in 2005—also a drought year—but was only for the areas including Stearns Street, Rodgers Road and Patten Lane where a number of wells went dry. She noted that Malcolm Meadows also had problems with its irrigation system during this time, ultimately adding a storage tank for additional water. ∆

Drought conditions monitored different ways

by Karina Coombs

National level

Looking at the “big picture” of drought conditions in the country, the US Drought Monitor has five categories of drought severity: Abnormally Dry, Moderate Drought, Severe Drought, Extreme Drought and Exceptional Drought. Currently, the area that includes Carlisle is classified at a category four or Extreme Drought meaning that a lack of moisture has resulted in the loss of major crops and/or pastures and widespread water shortages and/or restrictions in the affected areas.

Three agencies produce these data: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which hosts and maintains the website. Information is updated each Thursday morning at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspx

Local level

The Drought Management Task Force looks at drought conditions within the state and makes recommendations to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). The task force also has five categories of drought levels: Normal, Advisory, Watch, Warning and Emergency and has classified parts of Middlesex County—including Carlisle—at a level four, Drought Warning. 

In making its recommendations, the task force looks at a number of measurements including precipitation, crop moisture, groundwater, stream flow and reservoir levels. A level four indicates that Carlisle has seen a six-month period with below average rainfall and below average groundwater levels. Local drought conditions may be monitored here: www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/water-res-protection/water-data-tracking/drought-status.html and water saving tips here: www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/watersupply/rainfall/tips-for-saving-water-8-18-16.pdf/.  ∆

State gives BOH authority to issue water ban

State Environmental Code 310 CMR 11.05(1) states: “11.05: Emergency (1) General. Whenever an emergency exists in which the interest of protecting the public health or the environment requires that ordinary procedures be dispensed with, the board of health or its authorized agent, acting in accordance with the provisions of M.G.L. c. 111, § 30, may, without notice or hearing, issue an order reciting the existence of the emergency and requiring that such action be taken as the board of health deems necessary to meet the emergency. Notwithstanding any other provision of 310 CMR, any person to whom such order is directed shall comply therewith within the time specified in the order. Each day’s failure to comply with the order shall constitute a separate offense. Upon compliance with the order and within seven days after the day the order has been served, he may file a written petition in the office of the board of health requesting a hearing. He shall be granted a hearing as soon as possible. The procedures for such hearing shall otherwise conform with the hearing requirements which would have existed had the order been issued under non-emergency circumstances.” ∆