Water Use Still Climbing Despite Voluntary Restrictions

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Conservation , Environment

CHATHAM – If voluntary water use restrictions don't curb increasing pumping from town wells, mandatory restrictions may not be far off.

Public Works Director Tom Temple told selectmen last week that after a dip in water pumpage in May, usage shot up in June 14.6 percent higher than the same period last year. Wells were running 17 to 18 and a half hours a day, longer than the recommended 16 hours per day.

“It's a real big problem at this point,” he said.

“The message is we need to do a little bit better on the conservation side of things,” said Temple.

Selectmen asked Temple to keep them informed with regular reports, but if the voluntary water use restrictions put in place last month don't start showing results, mandatory restrictions, including higher fees for big users, could be imposed.

As of late last week, wells continued to pump at levels higher than last year. A total of 77,285602 gallons were pumped this June, compared to 66,987,600 in June 2015, a 10,298,002 gallon increase, according to Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.

The voluntary restrictions were invoked after selectmen, acting as water and sewer commissioners, determined that a “state of water supply conservation” following a spike in use late last year. Pumping levels exceeded a state cap on withdrawal from municipal wells, and the levels taxed equipment.

Officials say there is plenty of water available, but two town wells can't pump at heavy levels due to high concentrations of iron and manganese. In May town meeting appropriated $3.5 million to augment a previous $6 million appropriation to build an iron and manganese treatment facility that will allow three wells to pump at higher capacity.

The summer's dry weather is likely one reason for the increase in water use. While officials have publicized the voluntary restrictions – which call for restricting outdoor watering to between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. on an odd/even day schedule, no hosing down of sidewalks and driveways, no filling of pools and serving water in restaurants only when requested – there's no way to track compliance, said Duncanson. Meters are read on a quarterly basis, and when that happens officials may have information about whether the highest-volume users have cut back, he added.

Selectmen suggested early summer activities such as filling pools and watering lawns could account for the increased usage. Selectman Dean Nicastro said he's observed lawns being irrigated outside of the recommended hours, sometimes in the middle of the day when the sun evaporates most of the water.

“It's a useless exercise,” he said.

Temple added that some older irrigation systems can't be set to work on an odd/even day schedule, and officials may want to investigate allowing lawn watering on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on one side of the road and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on the other, with no watering allowed on Sundays.

All of the town's top 10 water users are commercial properties; several are restaurants and hotels, one is a church and the community center comes in at number six. Liberty Commons Nursing Home is the top user, but it's unfair to compare it to other commercial users, said CEO Bill Bogdanovich. For one thing, occupancy doesn't fluctuate much like it does with hotels and even restaurants. And the health care aspects of the operation presents inherent limitations.

Liberty Commons also has a separate private well for irrigation, he said. The facility also converted its laundry to an ozone-based system which uses less water than a traditional commercial laundry.

Bogdanovich said he has been in touch with town officials and would like to work with the DPW in exploring the use of low-flow toilets, in much the same way the facility has worked with the Cape Light Compact to improve the efficiency of its electrical use.

He hoped that any plan for higher rates for high-volume water use takes into consideration “the degree to which our use is different than any other.”

Chatham Bars Inn, the second highest water user, also has its own wells for irrigation, according to Senior Vice President John Speers. The inn also waters overnight to avoid evaporation, and its sprinklers have rain sensors to reduce unnecessary watering.

The primary water consumption drivers at the inn are the 600 guests occupying 217 rooms on a nightly basis in the summer, and restaurants serving thousands of meals a day, Speers said, and it's challenging to control or reduce consumption. Two steps the inn takes are to give guests the option to skip laundering linens and towels on a daily basis, and not automatically serving water to every restaurant customer.

Selectmen generally felt it was too early to tell if the voluntary restrictions were effective, and asked Temple to make presentations at each of their meetings this summer to keep them apprised of the situation.