2017-08-03 / Front Page

Despite adequate rain, water ban in place

No lawn watering; in-ground sprinklers concern officials
BY TIM RIEL

While the municipal water supply is healthier than it was last summer when Rhode Island was slammed by a drought, the town is reminding residents that mandatory water restrictions remain in effect.

The ban, which is automatically triggered each year on the first day of June, prohibits lawn irrigation through August. The wet spring, Town Engineer Mike Gray said, has no bearing on that restriction.

“It has been raining and the reservoir is OK, but this regulation was created because of our history,” he said. “It’s an effort to conserve water because you never know what can happen.”

According to Gray’s latest report, utility customers have been responsible with their supply. The 210,000 gallons pumped in June were the fewest gallons taken from North Pond in any June dating to 2008, which is when Gray’s log begins.

Moreover, customers in the last 11 months have used less water than the corresponding month a year earlier. For example, 183,000 gallons were drained from the reservoir in May compared to 202,000 gallons in May 2016.

While water customers seem to be cooperating with the town’s supply, Gray is concerned with builders constructing new homes with underground sprinklers. Those systems are prohibited year-round from being connected to the municipal water supply, he said, and only homeowners connected to wells or cisterns can use underground irrigation. Gray expects to start knocking on doors with warnings.

“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints,” he said. “We are going to be doing compliance work.”

The North Pond reservoir currently has 55 million gallons of water, which is only 5 gallons below its capacity. Along with conservation, Gray credits nearly 15 inches of rainfall in April and May, which is three-fold more than last spring’s total.

While lawn watering is mandatorily prohibited during the summer, the ban on other outdoor water use isn’t triggered until the reservoir is below 42 inches from the spillway. That is when roughly 30 million gallons remain in the pond, which is just about half of the supply. If the water gets to that level, the town puts restrictions on washing houses, boats and cars.

For perspective, there were 44 million gallons of water at the end of August 2016, but a rainless fall led to three consecutive months below the halfway threshold.

Pumping from South Pond, which is at its capacity of 6 million gallons, has been stopped since the beginning of spring. While that seems like good news, it could cause problems in the fall when workers want to start repairing the dam, Gray said.

The town has all the necessary assents from the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but work cannot begin on the $500,000 until the dry season. If the reservoirs remain full, it could postpone the repairs.

“The work is directly adjacent to the reservoir, so we have to be careful,” said Gray, who was monitoring the pond on-site Monday. “We’re not sure whether conditions will be suitable. They have to be ideal. We’ll wait and see.”

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