In a drought? Too bad. That’s your problem

BOSTON — While Ipswich wants area towns to stop sucking the river dry, Manchester sees water restrictions as a heavy burden on its ability to raise income.

Backed by the Massachusetts Water Works Association, among others, Manchester-by-the-Sea’s water director, Charles Dam, said water restrictions should be a local issue.

He acknowledged that Manchester’s summer water use is high but resisted efforts to reduce it. “That’s well over one-third of my revenue for the year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ipswich River is listed as one of the 10 most endangered in America due to water withdrawals, said Kerry Mackin, an Ipswich selectperson and water commissioner.

Wayne Castonguay, executive director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA), agreed. During the 2016 drought, the river and its tributaries flowed backwards in some locations, he said, adding that the current regulations are “untenable.”

The debate came last week at a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hearing on proposals to update water withdrawal regulations. The new rules would apply to nonessential outdoor water use by registered users during times of state-declared drought.

Duane LeVangie, water program chief with the DEP, pointed to the patchwork of water providers around the state, adding, “It’s very difficult to impose water restrictions when your neighbor is not doing anything at all.”

The proposals were made because state law requires water regulations to be updated every 10 years, LeVangie said.

There are 796 registered water users under the Water Management Act, the DEP proposal said.

Of those, 63 registered public water suppliers and 87 registered golf courses will be affected, it added.

The remaining users will be exempt. They include around 350 cranberry growers and other agricultural water users and around 70 others because their water use is core to their business, the DEP said.

LeVangie said much of the extra summertime water use is for non-essential purposes like watering lawns, filling pools, washing cars, and hosing down buildings and sidewalks. He pointed to Amherst, which loses up to 15,000 people every summer — yet it uses 1.08 times more water during the hot season.

The state average shows communities use 1.41 times — almost half as much again — more water in the summer, he said. However, Manchester uses more than twice a much water, 2.19 times, during the summer, LeVangie said.

The new regulations would “ensure adequate water for public health and safety and continued economic stability when water supplies are stressed by drought and an appropriate balance among competing water uses and natural resources, such as streamflow, wetlands, fisheries, and wildlife habitat during drought,” the DEP said in its hearing notice. 

Water use increases in summer — in some places more than others (DEP slide)

LeVangie said golf courses would also be required to follow the rules.

Mackin said she was “greatly in support of the proposed regulations,” but urged the DEP to look at “unregistered” water withdrawals, which are those of less than 100,000 gallons a day. They are exempt from the Water Management Act. She said earlier in the year that they take around four millions gallons a day from the watershed.

However, Stephen Boksanski, who represents an industry group that includes arborists, landscapers, and golf course owners, urged the DEP to let professionals use technology to reduce water use.

“We do see room for improvement,” Boksanski said, but he called suggestions like restricting watering to one day a week “overly burdensome.”

He said smart technology can measure rainfall and calculate irrigation amounts, while professionally installed systems will minimize wastage.

If droughts required scaling back to one-day-a-week watering, Bokanski said, “Some people will tend to over-water on that one day.”

Stephen Silva of the Taunton River Watershed Alliance said his group was “very much in favor” of the proposed regulations. “Let’s face it. We all use the same water,” he said.

While other watershed associations agreed, Joshua Schimmel, executive director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, said cuts in water use would stress his system.

Working in the second-lowest income area in the state, Schimmel said he would have to raise rates to offset lower water usage.

“Our seasonal increase in water sales in the summer is our bread and butter,” he said.

During the 2016 drought, Schimmel said he never had less than one year’s worth of water on hand. “The individual nature of water systems should be taken into account,” he said.

But Katherine Lange of the Mass Rivers Alliance urged the DEP to take action. “We’re just seeing this get worse and worse over time,” she said. “We just don’t have that kind of time on our hands,” she added.

Meanwhile, Mackin cautioned that past DEP decisions have been based as much on politics as science. She urged the public to make its views known. There will be another hearing over Zoom on July 16, and comments are open until 5 p.m. on July 26.

The DEP’s webpage is www.mass.gov/regulations/310-CMR-3600-massachusetts-water-resources-management-program.


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