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Water could be drying up


By Carol Britton Meyer / cmeyer@cnc.com
Thursday, June 24, 2004

Planning board looks for answers

The state of the town's water supply remains an open question in light of increasing development and other strains on the system.

"Within the next three to six months, we will come to an agreement as to when Hingham will run out of water -- the point at which we can't pump anymore water without degradation of the environment and when we can no longer meet the increasing demand," said Water Supply Committee (WSC) member Daniel Coughlin. "We'll have a planning number for how much time we have to go until desalinization [is seriously considered] or cutbacks on water usage need to be implemented." (The WSC and the Town of Hull are currently in the process of considering a joint desalinization plant.)

The WSC met with the Planning Board recently to discuss water-related issues and to hear any concerns the Board might have.

Coughlin emphasized the importance of allowing a 15 percent supply margin when projecting Hingham's future water supply.

"There needs to be either a dramatic increase in supply, such as desalinization, or a dramatic change in demand, which could ultimately result in a total outside water ban," said Coughlin.

The WSC is working cooperatively with Aquarion Water Company, which provides water to Hingham, Hull, and part of Cohasset, to find more regional solutions to water supply problems.

Whether or not bringing Free Street Well #4 online would provide an additional source or equate to putting "another straw into the same Coke bottle," is an issue, said WSC Chairman Peter Puciloski.

Planning Board member Tod McGrath asked what would happen if when the contract between Linden Ponds retirement community and the Town of Cohasset -- which has contracted to supply water to the senior campus - expires Cohasset finds it can no longer supply the development's water.

In response, Coughlin explained that should that occur, the amount of water required by Linden Ponds could be made up by "clamping down on water usage" among Aquarion water users.

"But I think we will have hit something [come across another source] by then," he said. "We need to do something before the 20 years is up."

McGrath expressed concern that Aquarion "has sort of a proprietary self-interest in pumping more water" to increase its revenues.

Puciloski also noted that Aquarion seems "anxious to sell water to the South Weymouth Naval Air Station [from Well #4]," which would require Department of Environmental Protection approval for an inter-basin transfer. "I think they'll attempt to do that."

But, Puciloski said, that wouldn't be possible if the safety margin Coughlin spoke about was implemented.

Planning Board member Susan Murphy said she would feel more comfortable if the town would "engage our own engineer to look over the shoulders" of those currently performing tests on Well #4 to determine its safe yield. It was noted that a consultant working for the Conservation Commission is taking a look at the issue.

It was also suggested that coming up with a town agenda for dealing with various water issues including the points of view of the "major players" would be advantageous.

Coughlin noted that Linden Ponds initially said it would get its water from "a desalinization plant not yet on line, and the town nodded and said, 'That's great.' I don't want that to happen again, because when that didn't happen, [Linden Ponds developer] Erickson [Retirement Communities] had to scurry around to find another source."

In the end, McGrath said, it all comes down to "searching for the real truth as to how much water we actually have."