Chatham Well Closed By PFAS Is Back Online

By: Tim Wood

A restriction on outdoor watering for properties on town water remains in place. The select board will revisit the ban next week. FILE PHOTO

Outdoor Watering Restrictions Remain In Place For Now


by Tim Wood

CHATHAM – One of the two drinking water wells shut down last year due to PFAS contamination is up and running again, pumping water filtered through a treatment system into the municipal water system.

With the additional water supply coming online, the select board opted to wait to review the town's mandatory outdoor watering ban, despite some pressure to expand the number of days residents are allowed to water lawns. Water department data shows that the number of gallons pumped in May was down 30 percent from a year ago.

“People are somewhat following the water ban restrictions,” said public works director Tom Temple. However, he said he's noticed around town that some residents are not adhering to the prohibition against watering lawns on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The ban restricts lawn watering to Tuesday and Thursday for even numbered street addresses and Wednesday and Friday for odd numbered addresses.

Wells 5 and 8 were shut down a year ago after per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected at levels higher than the state minimum. Loss of the water supplied by the two wells prompted officials to institute a mandatory outdoor watering ban last summer, which remains in place with some modifications.

The water supply situation is much improved as the time of heaviest use begins. Well 4, which had been closed down for years, was brought back online and is now pumping 10 to 11 hours per day with no water quality problems, Temple said.

Late last month the state department of environmental protection gave its approval to return well 5 to service following the installation of a granular activated carbon filtration system which removes the PFAS contamination. The treated water showed no detectable PFAS, Temple said. Well 8 will eventually be tied in to the treatment system, but the materials needed to do that are currently caught up in supply chain delays, he wrote in a memo to the board. Because well 8 also has high iron and manganese levels, it will only be used in emergencies, and will be blended with the water from well 5 before going into the distribution system, according to the state letter reauthorizing activation of the wells.

Because the treatment vessel had to be repaired after it was damaged during shipment, the manufacturer extended the town's warranty from 12 to 24 months, Temple said. An expedited delivery schedule was also not met, resulting in a $39,000 discount on the equipment.

Plans and cost estimates for a permanent treatment facility for the two weeks are expected later this summer, Temple said.

Select board members were reluctant to loosen the outdoor watering ban, however. The National Drought Mitigation Center's Massachusetts map dated May 24 lists the Cape as “abnormally dry,” noted Shareen Davis.

“I'm OK with leaving [the restrictions] in place until later in June,” she said at the June 7 board meeting.

Except for three days, fewer gallons of water were pumped every day this May compared to the same time last year, Temple said. That's a savings of more than 15 million gallons, or 30 percent less volume overall.

“People seem to be watching what they're watering and how often they're watering,” he said. If that continues, the town should have sufficient pumping capacity for the heavy-use summer months, he said.

The town's outdoor ban is the most strict on the Cape, residents Elaine Gibbs and Gloria Freeman said, and is unfair and inequitable. Only a third of residents with irrigation systems on town water have registered as required under regulations passed by the board last year, Gibbs said. Those who register pay a fee and higher rates; she said the town has done nothing to enforce the regulation.

She called for the board to lift the restriction on washing down vehicles, driveways, decks and houses. “Renters can take multiple outdoor showers but we can't clean off our clapboard,” she said. She said it wasn't fair that that boat owners are exempt from the ban, “even if they're not residents.”

Davis said the restrictions should cause people to consider using more native plantings and having a “Cape Cod lawn” that requires little or no watering. “We should be thinking about the environment we're living in,” she said. Resident Karolyn McClelland encouraged the board to leave the restrictions in place.

“There's a difference between a want and a need,” she said. “Nobody needs a lawn.”

The board agreed to review the outdoor watering restrictions at its June 20 meeting.