Diversifying and localizing our water sources is a forward-thinking way to provide for our needs while building resiliency into the fabric of our town. There are many ways we can do more with the water we already have. See above for the many ideas that could work for our town
Stormwater runoff creates air pollution:
Ashland Water/Resource Committee Report (PDF)
Is it really necessary to do any of these things? Don’t we have adequate water in Ashland?
According to the documentaries, “Flow” and “When the Water Tap Runs Dry”, water will be the defining issue in the 21st century. Already, other parts of the country are dealing with water shortages that are resulting in major conflicts. In the Northeast, we are fortunate to have enough rainwater that we have been relatively insulated from the water shortages across the country. However, even with our abundant water sources, much of it is polluted and we have an ever increasing demand.
Currently, our town government wants to get water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority which would mean we would be getting water from the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts. The town’s estimate is that it would cost 7.5 million dollars and would be paid for with higher water bills. The Water/Sewer Resources Committee met for 2 years to assess the town’s water and sewer needs and how to meet them. They came to a different conclusion -we can do more with the water we already have. The suggestions listed above were among the recommendations they had for how to deal with our water needs. Furthermore, recently the MWRA announced that the Quabbin was at a 10 year low at 88% capacity. If more towns sign on and depend on it, will there be enough for everyone?
Hooking up to the Quabbin sounds easier than these alternative systems and we would have access to a large water supply. Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of the MWRA?
It is not an either/or scenario, however, if we take a conservation approach to our water, we might not need to spend 7.5 million dollars (or more) and can use that money for other town services or keep that money in our pockets (remember, we will be paying for this with higher water bills). If we take a conservation approach, we save that money over and over, whereas with the MWRA we will be spending extra money forever. It is likely that, as the price of water goes up across the state and even more so nationally, we will pay more for water in addition to the higher water rates that cover the 7.5 million infrastructure. It is important to remember that we are not paying the true cost of water and that no matter what, we will have to pay more.
By conserving our water and doing more with the water we already have, we position Ashland to be self-sufficient and resilient to resource shortages that are forecasted for this new age of extreme weather. If we do subscribe to the MWRA, we will be competing for water with other subscriber towns higher on the list who have cheaper water rates (and less incentive to conserve).
I heard that there is a law that requires towns to provide water for anyone who wants to develop their land.
That is often said in communities looking into alternatives to their water. The Water/Sewer Resources Committee searched high and low for that law and never found anything -just more people repeating the claim. It might just be a rumor spoken enough that it is believed to be true. If anyone knows of where this law exists on the books, please let us know. It is possible that it is used by some as a scare tactic to push people into voting against their interests.
Is there one thing you recommend we all do?
The main thing to consider is how do we diversify our water supply so that we are not dependent upon any one source and that we use the water we do have really efficiently. Each person, each property has different constraints and needs and there is no cookie cutter answer. Greywater systems are a great way to substantially reduce your water needs while still having a great quality of life. Greywater from your shower can be converted to be used in your toilet. Rainwater catchment reduces stormwater runoff and keeps a supply of water to meet some of your needs to help in times of drought.
How can we conserve more water when every summer we are restricted to odd/even number watering and often Stage II and Stage III water restrictions?
The reason why water is in short supply is mostly because of the substantial amount of waste. Some water is wasted in infrastructure leaks -in other words, water is wasted even before it enters your home. In the home, there are leaky faucets, 3-5 gallon per flush toilets, long, daily showers, inefficient washing machines using as much as 20(?) gallons per load and outside the water is used for lawns and gardens that need a lot of extra watering on top of the natural rainfall. There is a lot of room for improvement without reducing comfort. Fixing a leaky faucet does nothing to limit one’s lifestyle. Fixing all the leaky faucets across town could have a substantial impact on our water security. See above for ways you can check for water waste at home.
How do we pay for these alternative water systems?
Some water systems are not expensive, some take significant investment, some make sense on the individual level while other systems are better at the community level. One potential project that could have a huge impact is designing the proposed new Public Safety building to use water smartly. A Rainwater Catchment that stores high volumes of water for fighting fires would add little to the cost of a new building whereas retrofitting existing buildings could prove to be cost-prohibitive. The rainwater could also be used to wash fire trucks and police cars and possibly used to flush the toilets. As of now, all water used is drinking quality which is extremely expensive and energy intensive. The future of water is using different types of water for different applications.
There is already a town water infrastructure that I pay for with my taxes. Why would I pay for a rainwater catchment system or graywater system when I am already paying for the system we have?
It is important that, no matter what, we all pay to maintain our existing water system. -It is an excellent system that serves thousands efficiently and it is in all of our best interests to maintain it and make improvements. However, there are many benefits to diversifying your personal water supply.
First, not all water needs to be drinking quality water. We certainly do not need to flush our toilets with it! Because municipal water treatment facilities use a lot of resources to filter our water to drinking quality, it makes sense to filter only the water we need to be that high quality. Also, some water systems require very little effort. A rain barrel could provide water for your garden instead of tap water which plants prefer anyway. If you are building new, you have an opportunity to incorporate some of these systems cost-effectively. However, putting our energy into making sure our town’s water infrastructure is efficient and that our municipal buildings are water efficient has an even greater impact.
What does water have to do with energy?
It takes an enormous amount of energy to process our water to drinking level standard. Conserving water means we are also conserving energy which also means we are reducing the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere.
How does processing our own sewage help with our water supply?
When we send our sewage (which includes stormwater runoff) to Deer Island to be treated, we are sending away valuable water. If we processed our own sewage and redirected our runoff water to recharge the aquifer, more water would reach our water table, ensuring we had enough for our town.
Why did our town vote to allow PVC water pipe to be installed from the street into houses?
This was voted during Town Meeting in November 2012. It was a fairly close vote and there was little notice of it in the papers. Some people are really concerned about new developments going in and using this cost-saving measure that could harm whole neighborhoods of people without their knowing it.
I am a renter. What can I do?
Look over your dwelling to see if there are leaks or running toilets and address those with your landlord. If your landlord is unresponsive, try talking to other tenants and see if together you can convince your landlord it is in her or his best interest to fix the leaks. Rental properties suffer from the Split Incentive problem. Improvements that would help the tenant’s wallet (example: insulation to save on heat and reduce CO2 emissions) cost the landlord money but does not offer a return on the investment. Tenants don’t have the power to make improvements on their dwelling and even with their landlord’s blessing, there is no guarantee how the tenant would live there long enough to reap the reward. As a consequence, there are many rental properties that are really inefficient. Most rental properties, however, include water in the rent. With water prices sure to increase, it is in your landlord’s best interests to fix leaks and replace inefficient toilets with high efficiency or dual flush toilets.
See if your landlord will permit you to install a rain barrel. This will require cutting the downspout but that can be easily replaced should your landlord want to. You can even offer to pay for the replacement downspout. Your rain barrel can be used for gardening and as a way to combat stormwater runoff.
Start a working group within Transition Ashland to work on the needs of renters. Renting is less resource-intensive than single family homes, however, because of the split incentives problem where landlords are reluctant to invest in improvements that save their tenants money but only costs them money. A working group could brainstorm solutions around this challenge.