Friday, November 16, 2007
Regional growth stresses water supplies
There is talk of water everywhere in the metrowest area and a few communities wonder if a few years down the road they may find, like the Ancient Mariner, there is not a potable drop to drink. Addressing these and related concerns, the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC) held what was advertised as its First Annual Water Forum on November 1 and the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord River (SuAsCo) Watershed Community Council, held its annual watershed forum, River Visions 2007, on November 10.
According to state Senator Pam Resor in introductory remarks at the MAGIC forum in Lincoln, "a number of communities" in the area are "bumping against" limits in the maximum withdrawal rates from their water supply. Both the MAPC and SuAsCo workshops illustrated the broad range of awareness of the situation, Resor mentioned, with program participants representing all levels of federal, state and local government as well as private sector specialists, scientists, local environmentalists and other interested members of the public.
Water quality good, long-term supply uncertain
Demographic factors in the metrowest region play a significant part in the overall water picture: a population increase of 465,000 (10.8%) is expected by 2030. Increased demand for housing leads to an increased demand for water, especially along the Interstate 495 corridor, where new economic growth has spurred the need for housing. Current water usage is 420 million gallons a day, and is expected to increase to 517 million gallons a day by 2030, about a 13% increase, with the I-495 corridor expected to sustain the highest growth and consequent water demand rate.
Metropolitan District Commission (MAPC) planner Martin Pillsbury concludes that "communities must either reduce demand or find a new source of water." He notes, "There is no cheap solution" to the water problem. At present 45 cities and towns are using Massachusetts Water Resources Authority water (Quabbin Reservoir).
Acton's program wins award
Acton has become the poster community for successfully confronting a water problem. The town's history of ground water contamination raised water awareness in that community, according to Jane Ceraso of the Acton Water District. However, on a critical 4.1-million-gallon day in June 1999, tank levels dropped and it was not the quality of water but its availability that created the problem. A water ban was instituted to get the peak demand down, and in one week Acton achieved a 36% reduction in water usage, primarily by changing lawn-watering practices. Ceraso says "It was really the lawn sprinkler that harmed us."
Since 1999, the town has initiated a water-conservation program and employed a staff person, Ceraso, for enforcement. The program does a lot of educational outreach and has distributed water conservation devices. The program has found residential audits helpful, with an average reduction of 23% consumption with auditing. Irrigation-system audits were conducted and yielded a 6% reduction. Across the town, "water-wise gardening" was promoted, developers were challenged to do water-wise planning and bylaws affecting in-ground irrigation systems were passed. Ceraso believes the most important thing a town can do to prevent a water crisis is to have some kind of conservation program.
Water in Carlisle
Carlisle is one of four towns in the MAGIC area that has no public water supply. Since every local residence depends on its own well and septic tank, the homeowner learns about any problems quickly. Board of Health Agent Linda Fantasia confirmed that she knows of two wells that have gone dry, but the town does not have, and does not expect, a water-supply crisis. Conservation Commission Chair Peter Burn, who was on the program organizing committee for the SuAsCo River Visions workshop, said he does not expect a water-supply problem but that point-source contamination is always a possibility.
The SuAsCo council's goal is to improve water quality and 33 communities have used its materials to achieve that end. It assists, educates, participates and informs, and it does not take a stand on issues unless its board reaches a concensus on the matter. Michael Last, a featured speaker at the meeting, chose "Creative Approaches to Building Consensus"as his topic. He referred to a website, www.creative-resolutions.com, as a tool to foster communication between the diverse groups working together on water issues.
© 2007 The