2011-03-24 / Front Page

Panel hashes out threats to water resources

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council acting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners addressed potential threats this week to the island’s water resources: Cesspools located near the shoreline and residents who walk their dogs or drive their all-terrains vehicles along the reservoir dam.

The Council also agreed during its meeting on March 21 to proceed with a plan to implement state rules regarding the installation of “cross-connection control valves,” which may or may not affect the owners of older homes.

The councilors learned about the North Road reservoir issue from Town Engineer Mike Gray. A memo from Gray says that, during the last several months, he has heard about “ATVs driving along the top and the face of the dam, destroying the vegetation that stabilizes the earthen embankment.”

The memo also says that Gray has received reports of “the public walking dogs along the dam and leaving the waste on the ground across the length of the dam.” Gray told the commissioners that the waste problem “is discouraging,” but pointed out that warning signs at a gate to the reservoir seems to suggest that “we’re promoting the use of the dam [for dog walking].”

In his remarks to the commissioners, Gray singled out a sign that says, “Leash, curb and clean up after your dog.” The verbiage seems to conflict with the Jamestown Parks and Recreation Ordi- nance, which prohibits the “recreational use” of “any town-owned reservoir or adjacent town-owned watershed property except in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by the town board of water and sewer commissioners.”

Language of both the ordinance and the signage should be modifi ed, Gray advised the commissioners, to flatly prohibit public access to the reservoir property. The commissioners agreed to devise a response to the issue.

Also during Monday’s meeting, Gray presented a template for Rhode Island towns to use when they implement the state Department of Health mandate for the installation of “cross-connection control valves” before providing water service to all industrial and commercial facilities and newly built homes.

The devices are intended to prevent backflow from pipes with potentially unsafe water into pipes providing drinking water. Backfl ow can occur during a fire, water line repairs or breaks, or during periods of extremely high water usage. Gray said that the cost for backflow preventers runs only into “tens of dollars,” but acknowledged that the cost for plumbers to install the valves will be much higher.

As Commissioner Ellen Winsor observed, for many people affected by the recession, “this would be a tough time to get a $400 bill.”

The owners of older homes will not be forced to retrofit backflow preventers unless the required inventory of cross connections identifi es unsafe or improper connections, such as those for irrigation or fire-suppression systems.

“Our current [building] code requires all new homes to have check valves after the meter,” said Gray. “Most commercial buildings already have the valves at the meter.”

Gray submitted to the commissioners a draft – the Cross-Connection Control Plan – which is based on the state’s health department template, which warns that “cross connections between public water supplies and non-potable sources of contamination or private wells can represent one of the most significant threats to health in the water supply.”

Under the state’s mandate, all Rhode Island towns must adopt plans to “eliminate actual or potential cross-contamination situations.” The plans must include a number of specific steps – such as an inventory – specified by the law requiring the state to issue a backflow-prevention regulation. Although Rhode Island municipalities must adopt its plans by the end of June, there isn’t any timeline specified for the inventory.

The commissioners will discuss a mechanism to search for, and inventory, problematic connections during their next meeting.

Another potential threat to Jamestown’s water resources – cesspools within 200 feet of the shoreline – is also in the town’s regulatory crosshairs. Like the backflow-prevention mandate, the replacement of affected cesspools with onsite treatment systems is required under state law, in this case the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007.

The issue was tackled during the Town Council meeting, which followed the water and sewer meeting. Jamestown’s Geographic Information System coordinator and Environmental Scientist Justin Jobin told the councilors that the town has a very good handle on the island’s inventory of cesspools, which are defined as any buried chamber used to receive sewage.

“Currently, there are 37 cesspools remaining on the island, and that’s a 50 percent reduction [from the 80 tallied in 2005],” said Jobin, adding that his GIS analysis has identified 12 of the 37 cesspools which fall within the 200-foot threshold of the law.

Jobin said that 26 of the island’s steel-tank systems are regarded as “substandard.” The total number of substandard systems – including affected and unaffected cesspools, steel tanks and “unknown systems” – is 60. Replacing substandard systems which fail inspection will cost from $10,000 to $25,000.

Under the phase-out law, all cesspools within the 200-foot threshold will have to be replaced with an on-site treatment system or connected to a sewage system by Jan. 1, 2013.

Also, all cesspools within the 200-foot threshold will have to be inspected upon notice from the state’s Department of Environmental Management and any of the affected cesspools that fail its DEM inspection will have to be replaced within one year.

If a residence with one of the affected cesspools is sold, and the residence is located in an area with a sewer system, the cesspool will have to be hooked-up to the local sewer system within one year of the sale.

Return to top