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Scituate's curbs on irrigation systems likely to resume this summer

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 14, 2012 02:59 PM

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Scituate officials are recommending that water restrictions - limiting the use of irrigation systems to one day a week – go back into effect this summer, a year after the ban was put into place.

According to Albert Bangert, director of the Department of Public Works, the conservation measure, which lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day, had numerous benefits to the town.

Under the restrictions, residents with built-in irrigation systems could use them only for a 24-hour period one day a week, depending on their voting precinct. There were no restrictions on hand-held hoses.

The program improved water quality by reducing the reliance upon pond water, Bangert said. In previous years, high usage of irrigation systems drained the well water, causing the town to rely on pond water, which has to be treated with chemicals before it is suitable to drink.

By limiting the amount of well water used, the town didn’t have to turn to pond water as often, cutting chemical use and the formation of chemical byproducts.

The water-treatment plant also had to run less often, reducing wear and tear on the plant, power consumption, and overtime costs, Bangert said.

The water pressure was also lowered because the town avoided drastic highs and lows in water stocks, causing fewer water main breaks (29 last year as opposed to 123 in 2010) and fewer brown water complaints (one-fourth of the calls the town had in 2010).

The town also avoided a townwide water ban – which would have limited water usage even further, and avoided negative impacts with water supplies for fighting fires.

Most important, Bangert said, the town now falls under the target gallons-per-day criteria suggested by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Previously, each user had been consuming an average of 68 gallons of water per day. With the new restrictions, that is down to 63.

This is especially pertinent as the town is seeking a new permit from the DEP for water usage, as the old one is soon set to expire.

Had the town not achieved the target, below 65 gallons a day, the DEP would have impose stricter regulations on the town as a whole.

Although Bangert and several other officials from the Water Resource Committee, Mass Bay Programs, and the North South River Watershed Association were in agreement to keep the restrictions as is, several residents disagreed.

“If we’re only going to be able to irrigate our lawn one day a week…if we run into a dry spell, we’ll have a sand lot,” said Martin Gantshar, 58 Crescent Ave. “My suggestion is since we’re advocating the same system…why does it have to be in a 24-hour segment? Why not two, 12-hour segments?”

Thomas McCusker, 50 Gannet Pasture Lane, agreed that the restriction dates seemed arbitrary, and that there were smarter ways to restrict water usage without hampering people who are looking out for their property.

“People want to keep their properties looking nice, people want to have their property values off, but people might go the alternative of sinking private wells. …Eventually wells are going to be banned. We need to think about how we’re moving forward,” he said.

To gauge public sentiment, the town polled 3,500 residents on the topic, and found that 83 percent wanted to keep the restrictions the same. But one of the audience members said the poll was a joke, because mast people don't have irrigation systems, so they would obviously vote in the affirmative.

At the meeting, Selectmen Chairman Tony Vegnani agreed that the one-day-a- week ban -- a measure he called “draconian” when it was initially put into effect -- might have been a little harsh.

Despite the complaints, Bangert stood by his recommendation to keep the restrictions the same.

“We can achieve further conservation of our water if people would in fact do what the current restriction is. Then we could consider additional programs. But right now we’ve accomplished the objective,” he said.

The discussion, which lasted over an hour, eventually became wearisome to Selectman Joe Norton.

“How fortunate we are tonight to sit here and discuss the automatic lawn sprinkler systems. We could talk about roofs being blown off houses…this is not the biggest problem facing the world today. And if someone was watching from outside of this, they would smile. It’s not that big a deal,” he said.

Selectmen didn’t take a vote on the measure, but seemed to agree that they would stay the course for the time being.

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