Our mission is to promote Healthy Rivers, to benefit both ecological systems and human uses. This summer’s drought has brought new urgency to implementing those programs.
If the drought has a silver lining, it is that the sudden and severe water shortages are a wakeup call focusing minds on a variety of water conservation and management strategies we have been urging for years. As Ben Franklin said “When the well runs dry we know the value of water.” The health of our rivers and the health of our water supplies are inextricably linked.
Water Conservation Education
With this drought our regional water conservation education program has taken on new meaning and made us the “go to” resource when discussing how the drought impacts our streams, how our communities use water, and focusing water conservation on the largest water usage in our watershed – lawn irrigation. This past summer we were on WATD twice, were asked to write a Boston Globe South opinion piece on the need to regulate private wells during a drought, and led reporters to dry streambeds so they could show the impacts to our streams from the drought.
Our Association has worked successfully with Scituate for years to raise awareness about water supply and fish passage issues. Substantial progress has been made with water conservation and streamflow maintenance. But with its major reservoir almost dry, the town is in an urgent situation.
And Scituate is taking action! The town has:
- Established an internal, interagency drought management task force, and has asked our Association to provide education support.
- Adopted new water conservation measures; the town is living on groundwater wells alone, with no further draw from its reservoir. For the first time they are asking people to reduce indoor water use as well as outdoor.
- Realized new urgency for raising the level of its reservoir dam, a measure we have pushed, which would not only increase capacity but facilitate herring passage; we recently helped to submit a $100,000 grant proposal to the state for design and permitting.
We have completed a first phase program to model the towns’ water uses, which will lead to recommendations for new management approaches that will use less water, increasing their supply security and the health of Third Herring Brook.
And the drought has led both towns to begin new water conservation enforcement measures, cracking down on some of the largest water users in Norwell – some of whom were found to be using 30,000 gallons a week! The state recommends 65 gallons per person per day.
Asking the Governor to Increase Drought Response
Because we can’t fix the problems caused by the drought after the fact, we along with 44 other members of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance asked Governor Baker to better safeguard our rivers, wildlife and water supplies during droughts. Specifically we asked the state to require water conservation in drought affected areas, including minimizing or banning lawn watering, a nonessential use, before public wells, reservoirs and our streams run dry.
New water supply permits
All South Shore towns are now renewing their water withdrawal permits from the state, following regulations adopted last year that require in depth consideration of a range of conservation and management measures to protect streamflows. In August, the state issued a fresh reminder to all towns on how they should incorporate water conservation measures into their permit applications. We are providing comments on permits to encourage communities to continue their work with us to focus water conservation on limiting outdoor watering all the time not just in a drought, to better understand impacts to streamflow and to reduce impacts through water conservation and smarter water management.