HARWICH — The water department is presently pumping more water from the aquifer than the state Department of Environmental Protection allows, and town officials are asking the state to grant permission for the town to increase its annual pumping volume.
Water Department Superintendent Daniel Pelletier said they presently have permission to pump 786 million gallons per year and they are seeking to increase the volume to 959.95 million gallons per year. Pelletier said they are seeking to keep up with the demand in the community. In 2016 the town pumped 851.80 million gallons per year.
Pelletier said they are not experiencing a shortage of water in the town and he does not see a need to put water usage restrictions in place. But the town is seeking to increase its volume to accommodate the needs of the community through 2030 as they are updating permits.
“The system is functioning fine, but you have to keep your eyes on the future,” Pelletier said. “As the town continues to grow the demand is going to go up and we have to make sure we have the supply.”
Under state permits, Harwich is allowed to pump 2.16 million gallons per day (mgd) on average over the year and in 2016 the department pumped an average of 2.33 mgd on average. The year before, town wells pumped an average of 2.31 mgd.
He attributed the increased pumping over the past two years to weather, citing the shortage of precipitation and the resulting drought conditions. “Everyone's lawn sprinklers were going around the clock,” the superintendent said. DEP and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation set the withdrawal numbers, and they allow for five percent over those numbers across the state. But they have allowed for 10 percent on Cape Cod to adjust to the needs of seasonal tourism, he said.
Pelletier said the town is in need of updating its Water Management Act permit and this is the appropriate time to seek an increase in pumping. He said the permits expired in 2010 and the state filed a permit extension act, which delayed renewal and has “brought us to where we are now.” That is filing for new permits for four wells that will be in effect through 2030.
There are two types of regulations governing the withdrawal of water, Pelletier said. The town has 10 registered wells, which allow the town to draw a specific amount of water each day. He said the town is allowed to draw 1.2 mgd from those wells and the town is allowed to withdraw .96 mgd from the four permitted wells. The registered wells' volume cannot change without legislative changes. so the town is seeking to increase the well volume for the four permitted wells from the .96 mgd to 1.43 mgd.
There is an effort by the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance to further condition the registered volume, he said. The MRA feels certain basins have withdrawal registration volumes that are higher than the yield of the aquifer. Pelletier said that is not the case with the groundwater lens on the Cape. He said there is plenty of water here.
“The state has been painting with a broad brush stroke over our water,” Pelletier said. “They know the Cape is different. We'll see where this takes us. DEP has been very good when working with Harwich through this process.”
The town is having no problem with shortages, Pelletier said, pointing out the wells can run 16 to18 hours a day and he does not anticipate that changing. If they were to run 24 hours a day it would produce eight million gallons, but the town's peak day has been 6.5 million gallons.
He said officials are looking at well exploration over the next few years “to give us a little free board.” It's really only for three months, because water use drops to around 800,000 mgd in the winter, compared with 5 or 6 mgd in the summer. A new well located north of Route 6 would not only provide more capacity, but would be protected in the event of a pollution spill on the highway, since groundwater there flows to the south.
Pelletier also said it is important to work with the neighboring towns on water issues. He said they have interconnections in place with Chatham, Brewster, Dennis and Orleans. Chatham has voluntary water restrictions in place and Pelletier cited a million gallon a day well down in Chatham and a number of shallow wells that could be impacted in a drought.
“They reached out to us in April, and we've been trying to put all the pieces together, Pelletier said. “ We're neighbors and at the end of the day, you help your neighbor.”
He said there is an interconnection along Route 28 with a vault set up where the water can flow either way. There are back-flow preventers and a meter as well. The fee for intermunicipal water usage has as yet not been determined, the superintendent said.
The only foreseeable need for putting in place mandatory water restriction in Harwich would be if they were requested to open the interconnection with Chatham and supply that town with water, Pelletier said.
“I don't see any long term water restrictions here,” the superintendent said. He cited the award recognition once again this year from the state Department of Environmental Protection for public water supply and Pelletier said the system is in good shape.
Speaking to the request for the additional water under this permit application, Pelletier said as the town continues to grow the demand is going to increase and “we have to make sure we have the supply.”