Final Public Hearing Set For Water Conservation Regs

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Drinking Water

Swimming pool.

CHATHAM — The region may still be drying out from some recent soaking rains, but what could be a long, hot summer is just around the corner. And that's turned the heat up on water conservation planning.

Selectmen last week scheduled a public hearing to discuss new proposed restrictions on non-essential water use that regulate residential irrigation systems and swimming pools.  The hearing will be held as part of the regular board meeting on April 25 at 5 p.m.

A product of 18 months' work by the water and sewer advisory committee, the regulations have been altered somewhat in response to concerns raised at previous hearings. The latest iteration provides for a more delayed system of issuing repeat violations to accommodate property owners who may not be on site to immediately receive notices. In cases of properties with both swimming pools and irrigation systems, the revised rules allow pools and sprinklers to be on a single meter that is separate from the property's regular domestic water meter. Under a previous draft of the new rules, such a property would have required three separate meters.

The 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 iron and manganese filtration system expected to come online in April 2018 will add capacity to the municipal water system, conservation measures may be needed should the water system be overtaxed.

“In the event of an actual crisis in which water supply is truly questioned, it provides a method to curtail or shut off nonessential water uses,” Water and Sewer Advisory Committee Chairman Larry Sampson told selectmen last week.

“We skated through last year,” he said. The summer of 2017 will also be a challenging one for the water system, Sampson noted.

Board member Cory Metters said the draft rules are a delicate topic for him.

“I'm not a big fan of new regulations,” he said. Metters also questioned how easy the rules would be for town officials to enforce. Metters and other members of the board favored holding another public hearing on the rules, rather than voting to implement them immediately.

“I don't think we drag our heels on this one,” Chairman Jeffrey Dykens said. With summer just around the corner, it makes sense to act quickly, he said.

But many property owners likely to be affected by the rules are seasonal residents who won't be on Cape Cod for a hearing in April, resident Frank Messina said. “That's something I think you should be considering,” he said.

Waiting until after Memorial Day would be too late, Dykens countered.

Board member Seth Taylor asked Town Manager Jill Goldsmith to reach out to the summer residents' advisory committee to notify them about the hearing, and to encourage them to spread the word among seasonal residents.