2008-08-21 / Editorial


Sole source a federal boondoggle

It was disappointing to learn this week that Jamestown has been named as a federal sole source aquifer. Here's how the Environmental Protection Agency reported it:

"The drinking water supply of Conanicut Island has been designated as a sole source aquifer. Conanicut Island is located off the coast of Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay and includes the municipality of Jamestown.

"Sole Source Aquifer designations are made to protect drinking water supplies in areas with few or no alternative drinking water sources, and where any available alternative would be extremely expensive. The designation requires EPA to review any proposed projects that received federal funding to ensure they do not endanger the water source. Under the program, EPA typically reviews projects such as highway construction improvements and large wastewater treatment facilities.

"When the designation formally takes effect later this summer with a notice being published in the Federal Register, Conanicut will be one of 16 New England locations to have a sole source aquifer designation. Other locations already designated in Rhode Island include: Pawcatuck River, Hunt-Annaquatucket-Pettaquamscutt and Block Island. A number of other island communities off New England's coast also have sole source status, including Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

"The aquifer under Conanicut Island is the principal source of drinking water for all island residents. Recharge of the water supply is primarily by infiltration of precipitation. No economically viable alternative sources exist since the Island is located in the Bay and is independent of mainland sources.

"The community has already shown strong commitment to protecting the drinking water aquifer, and this federal designation will help strengthen existing efforts."

So what does this "sole source aquifer" designation mean for Jamestown? Very little, as far as we can determine. To begin with, the EPA got the science wrong that Conanicut Island has only one aquifer. Two years ago, University of Rhode Island professor emeritus Daniel W. Urish told the Jamestown Press that Conanicut Island is comprised of not one but three aquifers.

A respected hydrogeologist, Urish had done extensive studies on Conanicut Island's water sources. He said all of our island's water comes from precipitation and recycled groundwater .

Urish cautioned against contaminating our water through pollution and overbuilding because it overtaxes the natural ability of any aquifer to recover and replenish itself.

The Town of Jamestown has done a thorough job of continuing to educate islanders about the precious and precarious state of our water supply. Conservation and common sense is foremost. The town has even stopped oiling the macadam roads because of the potential pollution to our water supply.

Our town water is rationed every summer because we don't have enough to go around. Those on well water also conserve because if they don't their wells run dry.

Maybe the EPA could send us a few brochures that we can hand out at the next financial town meeting.

Construction of the Route 138 cross-island four-lane highway was a controversial issue in the 1990s. We battled over that road for many years. But now it has been built. Ask any island old-timer: the new highway more than likely impacted our water supply.

Where was the EPA then?

It is disturbing that we now have a new layer of federal bureaucracy to wade through. Perhaps the EPA could find some money to help us expand our water resources. A reverse osmosis water treatment plant would be nice. Or how about a tax credit for homeowners to construct water cisterns connected to their rain gutters? That could go a long way towards capturing all the groundwater that runs off into Narragansett Bay after every rainstorm.

There comes a time when we have to say enough foolish bureaucracy. Less government is better and less expensive than more government.

Jeff McDonough

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