Additional water limits may be on way

Toward the tail end of the heat wave that blanketed Rhode Island with temperatures topping 90 degrees on seven consecutive days from July 18-24, people in Jamestown used 1 million gallons of water that weekend alone.

“If we keep doing that every few days, we’re going to be in real trouble,” said Mary Meagher, vice president of the town council.

Town Administrator Jamie Hainsworth updated the councilors about the level of North Pond during a special meeting Monday morning. The reservoir, he said, was 19 inches below the spillway when it was measured last Thursday. By Monday morning, it had depleted another 3 inches. While being 22 inches below the spillway is “OK for this time of the year,” Hainsworth said he will monitor the situation closely.

“This is a problem that’s only going to get worse,” Meagher said.

To protect the single-source aquifer on Conanicut Island, a prohibition on irrigating lawns with public water automatically is triggered June 1 and remains in effect through Aug. 31. In addition to that three-month ban, in-ground irrigation and sprinkler systems are not allowed to be connected to the municipal water system during that time.

As the reservoir gets lower, however, restrictions get stiffer. When the height of the 60-million-gallon reservoir at North Pond is more than 42 inches below the top of the spillway, housing, car, and boat washing join lawn irrigation on the restricted usage list. When the height of North Pond is from 42-60 inches below the top of the spillway, all outdoor water usage, including watering gardens, is restricted.

Although the reservoir still has about 20 inches to go before the next set of restrictions are automatically triggered, Meagher wants to be proactive by discretionarily increasing the prohibitions before the code of ordinances mandates them. Meagher singled out boat washing, which she called the “most offensive” wasteful use of water.

“I know other communities are imposing stricter restrictions, and I think it would behoove us to tighten these regulations,” she said.

The councilors also pleaded with homeowners with wells to conserve water. Because they are not utility customers, the ordinance banning irrigation does not affect them. With a single-source aquifer, however, people watering from their wells still has a negative impact on the utility district. Meagher said she has witnessed homeowners in the Jamestown Shores watering their lawns “who don’t seem to understand” how their behavior is impacting others.

“Someone overusing their well can affect their neighbors,” she said.

Councilor Mike White issued a “significant warning” for people living in the North End who choose not to conserve their well water. When he was living on Sloop Street during the drought in 1990, White, to his distress, chose not to conserve.

“We were watering the lawn, and all of a sudden, it stopped watering,” he said. “We literally ran the well dry.”