Our View: Water Woes

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

It’s no surprise that Chatham is behind the eight ball when it comes to its water supply system. Some of its wells are old and shallow, one was closed for years after the discovery of tetrachloroethylene and two more are tainted with PFAS. The other wells all have high amounts of naturally occurring iron and manganese that require special treatment. And like other communities on the Cape, Chatham pumps the most water in the summertime, when the aquifer is at its lowest level.

A draft report by the town’s water consultants has a little good news and plenty of bad news. It showed that mandatory outdoor water restrictions succeeded in reducing consumption enough to keep the system operational during a time of peak demand and low supply. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, though the town just completed two new wells at Mill Pond, it’s not enough. Consider the words of Leah Stanton, a highly experienced water supply expert.

“When we first started looking at this, I was thinking you probably had enough water supply. Then after we started cranking these numbers, you almost can’t have enough water supply for the way the people in Chatham are using water.”

Stanton said a mouthful. The words of former Health and Natural Resource Director Bob Duncanson still echo: it’s crazy to spend millions of dollars to develop new wells, then to pump and store water, treating it to exacting drinking water standards, only to spray it on the lawn.

Chatham has already begun to address the problem. Since 2021, it’s been illegal to connect irrigation systems to town water, and older systems must be on separate water meters, so owners can pay a higher rate. And the select board has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the town has enough clean water to drink. Voters have made major investments in the water system. But throw in a drought, a failed pump or some unexpected contamination, and those efforts are eroded away.

The bottom line is, left unchecked, Chatham’s summertime water use is not sustainable. It will take a redoubling of effort to both increase supply, and decrease demand, of the town’s most valuable commodity.