Friday, December 17, 1999
Chelmsford wells could impact Carlisle water supply
An issue of possibly profound significance to Carlisle is coming to a head across the town line in Chelmsford. One of the three privately-owned water districts that supply water to our neighbor to the north is proposing to locate six wells with a total daily pumping capacity of 360,000 gallons on Chelmsford's portion of the Cranberry Bog Reservation. The plan has already received a certificate of compliance from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs that indicates no further review of the project will be required under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.
The proposal for the Barnes Terrace wells is now before the Chelmsford Conservation Commission, which must approve the application and issue an affirmative Order of Conditions before the project can move further forward. They have initiated a series of public hearings to evaluate the proposal.
Effect on Cranberry Bog
The immediate importance of this project to Carlisle lies in the potential impact such a major withdrawal of water may have on farmer Mark Duffy's cranberry operation, which depends on Heart Pond and the cross-border wetlands for adequate irrigation of his crop and protection against fall and winter freezing. In addition, the possible effects on regional water resources, whether private or, potentially, municipal, gives adequate reason for concern.
Recent history shows that the 300-acre Cranberry Bog was bought in 1986 by Carlisle and Chelmsford. Chelmsford's share was $750,000 and Carlisle's $1.86 million. Both towns applied for self-help grants, but when the state imposed a requirement for a joint management district with equal representation from each town plus a representative from the state, Carlisle balked. As a result, Chelmsford received its $600,000, but Carlisle, owing to its reluctance to surrender control of its larger portion of the tract to a body in which it could be outvoted, failed to receive its million dollar award as state funding dried up..
To return to the present, following a site walk attended by members of both the Chelmsford and Carlisle Conservation Commissions, Chelmsford chair David McLachlan opened the first official hearing on December 7 by defining the three major factors to be considered by the board: first, the actual construction of wells and pumping facilities within the buffer zone of the wetlands; second, and most important, the impact of the wells on the wetlands and neighboring territory; and third, the question of compensation to the town of Chelmsford for an easement or sale of the land on which the wells are located.
In a letter to Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand, Chelmsford's community development coordinator Andrew Sheehan enumerated a number of concerns generally related to the methodologies which the applicant used in data collection and the resulting conclusions reached with regard to effects on the wetlands. These include "the impact of the proposed wells on the cranberry operation downstream in Carlisle."
Noting that the professed purpose of the project is to address periods of peak water demand typically associated with drought, the letter declares, "Since the proposed system will draw 70 to 100 percent of its flow from the wetland, this is likely to have an adverse impact. Sheehan indicated that there appears to be no data available to confirm the applicants' contention that there will be no adverse impact on the River Meadow Brook and its associated wetlands during pumping operations.
A number of questions
In an attachment to Sheehan's communication, the Chelmsford conservation commission listed four major questions with a number of more detailed queries under each. The first fell under the general heading, "How necessary is a new well field?" The second asks, "What are the alternatives?" The third and most detailed inquires, "What are the potential impacts?" and contains eight questions seeking specific data and calculations to prove the claims made by the applicant regarding the effect on both the surface waters and the underlying aquifer. The fourth and fifth ask how the impacts will be monitored and how the Water District would respond if adverse impacts were encountered. According to McLachlan, these questions will be the subject of the second public hearing on the proposal scheduled for December 21 at 7:45 p.m.
Lay opponents of the proposal, such as Thomas Wilson of the River Meadow Brook Associates and MA Riverways, predict that the project will seriously reduce water levels in the area ponds and coves destroying both plant and animal species, and threatening popular recreational activities. Such lowering of water levels might also invite a profusion of invasive plants such as loosestrife that could permanently destroy habitat.
Carlisle officials respond
Concern among Carlisle officials has mounted as members of the conservation commission and water quality committee attended both official and unofficial hearings in Chelmsford. Geologist and water quality group member Tony Mariano Sr., is planning to recommend that the town hire a professional hydrology consultant to assess the probable effects on water resources. This is also the recommendation by telephone of Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions (MACC) director Sally Zielinski, who was a ConsCom member at the time of the bog purchase.
Looking at Carlisle's role from a related perspective, board of selectmen chair Doug Stevenson told the Mosquito, "It's probably time for us to become proactive on this issue and get some clarification of our water rights from Town Counsel." In another telephone conversation, farmer Duffy cited problems he has encountered over the years on occasions when he has needed to "pull the boards" at Heart Pond dam and assures the Mosquito that he will be attending the December 21 hearing.
That hearing is by no means the end of the approval process. Before pumping can begin, the Chelmsford Water District must get the approval of the town's board of selectmen and conservation commission and negotiate an easement or fee with that commission. Then Chelmsford Town Meeting needs to vote by a two-thirds majority to convey the land, and finally, a Home Rule Petition must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the Massachusetts General Court and be signed by the governor. Of considerable interest in this regard, Zielinski informed the Mosquito that MACC is looking carefully and lobbying actively as each proposal for withdrawal of conservation land reaches the state legislature, where several such requests have recently been rejected. Nevertheless, Chelmsford Water District is predicting that they will have the operation up and running by the summer of 2001.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito