CHATHAM — Acknowledging that the town's water system could be stressed to its limits again this summer without more conservation, selectmen last week adopted a strict set of voluntary restrictions and new regulations that control nonessential water use.
As of April 1, 2018, no new turf irrigation systems will be allowed to connect to the town water system if a suitable private well is available. Any existing systems will also be required to switch to a private well, if one is available. The water regulations require timers and rain sensors on in-ground irrigation systems, which can only operate between midnight and 6 a.m. In-ground lawn sprinklers will be set to provide no more than one inch of water per week, and as of next year, cannot be expanded in size without town approval. The regulations also target swimming pools, and as of next April 1, pools cannot be filled or drained and refilled using town water, though town water can be used to maintain the water level. Irrigation systems and pools must be registered with the town, and violations of any provision of the new rules carry potentially hefty fines.
Acting in their capacity as the town's water and sewer commissioners, selectmen omitted language that would have required pools and in-ground irrigation systems to be placed on secondary water meters. Board member Seth Taylor argued that requiring in-ground lawn sprinklers to have their own meters “is inherently unfair. If the issue is the outdoor use of water, then we need to tell everybody in the town of Chatham that they need to retrofit their entire home with two meters so that all of their outdoor faucets, their outdoor showers are on a separate meter. Because that's the only fair way to do that.”
But resident Sean Summers argued that, while another round of voluntary water restrictions are warranted, the town doesn't need regulations on the books to deal with a short-term shortage of pumping capacity.
“We don't have a shortage of water,” he said. Two town wells are currently offline because a new iron and manganese removal plant is not yet in place, and when they are returned to service, the town will have restored its pumping capacity. If the goal of the regulations is to discourage the use of town water for sprinklers and pools, that goal deserves a broader discussion, Summers said.
But Public Works Director Tom Temple said there is evidence of an actual shortage of water, given that a monitoring well in South Chatham showed the aquifer down a foot-and-a-half over last May's level, or about where it usually is in August. “I'm very concerned,” Temple said. Without conservation measures, “we're going to draw down some of these wells” before the end of the summer. Should there be a brush fire or a bacterial outbreak that shuts down just one town well during the peak summer usage, the situation would be critical, Water and Sewer Advisory Committee Chairman Larry Sampson added.
“All it takes is one serious pump outage for one of the wells and we find ourselves in a situation that none of us wants to be in,” he said.
Addressing that need, selectmen also unanimously adopted a set of voluntary water conservation measures that took effect Monday and remain in place through Sept. 30. Under the “state of water supply conservation,” outdoor watering is restricted to odd calendar dates for properties with odd house numbers, and even dates for even house numbers. Outdoor watering is also limited to one inch per “watering event,” and can only take place between 6 p.m. and midnight. Washing of boats, sidewalks, driveways and cars is prohibited, with the exception of commercial car washes using recycled water. The board opted against turning off the courtesy hoses at three town landings.
Temple said the town itself has already begun conserving water, limiting hydrant flushing and fire flow tests. The fire department is also considering using pond water to fill the tanks on the town's fire engines, he said.