News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 20, 2018
Summer drought strains water supply

by Rich Hewitt

The town’s water supply is slowly recovering from the summer-long drought, but the drain on the standpipe and the low output from the wells has water company officials worried about the future.

The departure of some summer residents has eased the pressure on the water system and, according to Annaleis Hafford, the engineer from Olver Associates who manages the water company, the standpipe is beginning to refill. Its level was between 30 and 35 feet during August, although levels declined throughout the month until after Labor Day when they started to slowly make gains. The water level in the standpipe as of Monday was 36.6 feet.

“Things are looking up,” Hafford told selectmen at the regular water company meeting on Monday. “But we still have a long way to go to get to where we should be at 48 feet.”

Although all the wells are being operated daily, their productivity is still being affected by the dry weather and the long hours they are being run, she said. A “significant” leak on Cottage Lane over the Labor Day weekend did not help matters. The leak spilled about 5,000 gallons per day over the weekend.

Despite the rising standpipe levels, Hafford expressed concerns about the ability of the existing wells to meet the water demands. She noted that the system pumped less water this August than during the same period last year—1,199,541 in 2018 compared to 1,236,230. Production in both years fell short of the demand during the month.

“We’re not really keeping up with the demand,” Hafford said.

She suggested that the water company will need to look at the possibility of sinking another well in order to increase the system’s production capacity. Hafford said the town has done a good job with its efforts to increase tourism and business development in town, but she added that has also increased pressure on the water.

“We may need to look at putting another hole in the ground,” she said. “We need to do something about the water supply. The water’s just not keeping up.”

The state’s Drinking Water program offers capacity development grants, which require a 50/50 match, but Hafford said, those grants are not always available. It is important to begin the process now in order to meet the town’s future water needs.

“We’ve got to have more sources of water,” she said.

Selectmen authorized Hafford to investigate the availability of a capacity development grant.

The process won’t be easy, she said, especially since the water company is looking at additional projects for the future. One of those projects is the possible replacement of the system’s transmission line which runs from the pump house to the standpipe. Hafford expects to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to help fund that project, and she told the selectmen that they will likely need to refinance an existing Rural Development loan, which would put the utility in a better financial position when applying for the grant.

The water company also will need to conduct a system vulnerability assessment, which, although it will have some value to the utility, it will cost about $5,000. Although Olver Associates does some assessment work under its agreement with the water company, Hafford said, the utility will have to pay for this comprehensive examination of the system.