Town Turns Up The Pressure On Irrigation System Owners

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Drinking Water

A voluntary water ban is in place again this summer.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Residents who use town water to keep their lawns green will soon be giving up more green to do so.

Selectmen, acting as water and sewer commissioners, voted Monday to adopt new controls on irrigation systems connected to the town water system, outlawing new connections in 2021 and requiring already-connected systems to be placed on separate water meters.

Town officials say the demand that irrigation systems place on the town’s water system is driving the need for costly infrastructure improvements, and anticipated new differential water rates will place more of the financial burden on irrigation system owners.

The changes to the town’s water regulations were initially opposed on the basis of the $275 cost to property owners forced to install a second water meter before the Jan. 1, 2021 deadline. But water and sewer advisory committee Chairman Larry Sampson said much of the opposition vanished when it became clear that all ratepayers would likely see big increases in their water bills if there were no way to separate out irrigation systems.

“The water rates will well exceed the expense of that $275 additional meter,” he said. That figure only covers the cost of the meter, which will be installed by town staff at no extra charge. By covering the approximately $250 cost of the installation, the town is hoping to give property owners an incentive to have the work done.

The new regulations specify that no new irrigation systems will be connected to town water after the deadline. The rules do not apply to movable sprinklers that use garden hoses. Both new and existing irrigation systems must be placed on separate meters as of the deadline, but those meters won’t be subject to the water department’s lower winter minimum service charge. If a property has an irrigation system and a swimming pool, a single second water meter can serve both.

Having separate meters gives the town “an enforcement methodology” for property owners with irrigation systems connected to town water who have not complied with a 2007 regulation requiring them to register their systems with the town. Once all irrigation systems are on separate meters, “we can monitor the growth of that use more directly,” he said.

But when it comes to forcing owners of existing systems to install new meters, or just to register their systems with the town, Sampson admitted that Chatham’s enforcement is lax and follows a “Mayberry mentality.” But the changes are designed to allow better enforcement in the future, he said. Setting a firm date for the change was a key strategy.

“If we don’t have a good, hard, firm deadline, we can expect nothing to happen,” he said.

The town has adopted voluntary water restrictions to control demand on the public water system, despite the fact that a new treatment plant will soon increase the system’s capacity. But without controls on water use, officials have said it may be necessary to build another standpipe and make other infrastructure improvements to be able to safely meet peak demand.

“We will need additional monies from the water rate to support that growth,” Sampson said.

Selectmen adopted the new rules by unanimous vote.

“I think it’s high time,” board member Jeffrey Dykens said.


Email Alan Pollock at alan