Selectmen: New Water Conservation Rules 'Strict' But Needed

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Drinking Water

Swimming pool.

CHATHAM — The rules are strict and the penalties for violators are stiff. But the regulations being finalized by the board of selectmen aim to ensure that the town's public water supply can continue to meet growing demand.

Acting in their capacity as the town's water and sewer commissioners, selectmen last week held a public hearing on the draft regulations. They asked the water and sewer advisory committee to tighten some of the language and clarify some of the policies, and will hold another public hearing before reviewing and possibly adopting the rules.

The draft regulations call for all new residential irrigation systems to be connected to private wells, where they are available, starting on April 1, 2018. After that time, property owners seeking to add a new turf irrigation system will need to have a new well installed, unless they can prove that a well cannot be put on their property. Turf irrigation systems will be set to provide no more than an inch of water each week, and systems can't be expanded after Jan. 1, 2018, without permission. The regulations also impose fines and penalties for repeat violators and authorize the police department to enforce the rules. 

Starting in 2020, all irrigation systems that remain connected to town water will need to be placed on a separate water meter, installed at the property owner's expense. All new systems would require separate metering starting immediately. Systems on town water would need a timing device capable of conforming to odd-even day water restrictions, and must allow watering only between midnight and 6 a.m. The irrigation system rules don't apply to movable sprinklers connected by garden hoses. 

And starting on April 1, 2018, it will be illegal to use town water to fill or re-fill swimming pools. Pools connected to town water must be registered and permitted by the town by 2018, and must be placed on a separate water meter by 2020.  Once a swimming pool is filled, the system can use town water to keep the level topped off, but that water use will be billed separately.

Last year, voluntary water restrictions failed to substantially curb water consumption. Rather than restrict potable water used for sanitation and cooking, the town is seeking to further regulate non-essential water use like irrigation and swimming pools. While a new filtration system expected to come online in April 2018 will help add capacity to the town's water system, conservation measures are needed to address generally higher water consumption in town.
“As you know, last year we were able to eke by,” advisory committee Chairman Larry Sampson told the board last week. “The intent of this is to look forward in reducing the impact of turf irrigation water coming out of the municipal water supply.”

The board generally approved of the new regulations. Selectman Seth Taylor asked for some clarification of how second water meters would be connected, saying there is “an awful lot of opportunity for mischief” unless the meters are installed in a particular way. Taylor also warned that the language might cause some customers to need to install three meters – one for drinking water, one for irrigation and one for a pool – when a single additional meter could cover the sprinklers and pool.

The goal of having a separate water meter is simple, Sampson said.

“We're charging folks for this extra meter so they're cognizant of what this water is being used for,” he said. Every summer, he's noticed a faulty lawn sprinkler head from a property off Bailey's Path that sprays water on to Route 28. “It's been doing that every summer for the last five or six years,” he said. It will cost customers about $200 to install a second meter.

Board chairman Jeffrey Dykens asked why the draft regulations require a moratorium on filling swimming pools with town water starting in 2018, but give customers until 2020 to put pools on a separate water meter.

“Why wouldn't we want more teeth and accelerate the installation of those separate water meters?” he asked. Sampson said the advisory committee met with private irrigation system installers and plumbers, who raised concern that they might not have time to install the meters sooner. A number of those contractors are busy working in Eastham, which has recently built a town water system, and where many customers are currently having meters installed.

“That's why they asked us to put it out a little bit further,” Sampson said.

Dykens noted that irrigation systems that violate the new regulations will be subject to a warning for the first violation, a $50 fine for the second violation, a $100 fine for the third violation and disconnection of the system at the owner's expense on the fourth violation. Because each day the system is out of compliance represents a separate violation, the town could require a non-compliant system to be disconnected in less than a week if the problem isn't corrected.

“These are fairly strict for the little town of Chatham,” Dykens said of the proposed rules. “But you know what? It's very important that we get a handle on this.”