For month now, the Town Council has been in delegation over how to address water use in the town as it pertains to the recently rescinded residential water ban placed on the town in response to last year’s drought.
Although efforts have been put into place to give residents more access to water for watering their lawns, one major concern still remains up in the air: companies removing water from public bodies of water for commercial use.
In response to this, the council held a public hearing during their June 5 meeting at town hall to try to come to a conclusion on Ordinance 2017-03, leading to a discussion which dominated most of the meeting.
Ordinance 2017-03 is a response to the recent issue with Ordinance 2016-08, which banned the aforementioned commercial water use due to the drought status at the time. As Londonderry is no longer suffering from a drought, Ordinance 2016-08 no longer has any authority pertaining to droughts. Thus, Ordinance 2017-03 will instead ban such commercial water removal regardless of drought status, simply banning the act due to the concerns of residents over the impact these companies would have on the local environment.
That does not mean that locals did not have something to say about the matter, however. Several residents in attendance went before the council during the hearing to share their various concerns over the issue.
For starters, Remy Fortin, who has been in the town for 42 years, noted the impact such removals have been having on local lakes and rivers, at one point reducing certain bodies of water to “dust bowls”. Fortin also briefly mentioned how certain water supplies have been found to have the chemical chloramine, a purifying agent similar to chlorine, which can potentially bring harm to plants and fish in the area.
Marge Badois, Chair of the Conservation Commission, felt that a greater focus should be placed on educating these companies on where it is not appropriate to place their vehicles, as a recent incident along the Rail Trail can attest to where one truck was caught by Badois laying fertilizers around a body of water that children normally use. In terms of how to catch those who commit these acts, Town Council Chair Tom Dolan noted that “we rely on the public for enforcement.”
Deb Paul came next, telling the council about how she noticed several companies hydro pumping around town, alerting the police every time she saw an occurrence. However, she was typically told by the police that enforcement of the matter was rather vague due to the state’s “Riparian Rights”, or common heritage laws that typically allow for any member of the public to take from bodies of water freely.
Finally, Diana Mele, who has long been outspoken about responsible water use in Londonderry, spoke out against the companies who have been taking from the various bodies of water in town, stating that “they don’t care about well owners” and that they are only concerned about profits. She lamented the affect water removal may have on recreation and the ecosystem of the town if this continues, telling the council that, as the water bodies are considered town property, “we have to have people who are responsible” when it comes to protecting these areas.
The council fully agreed that the matter needed to be addressed, but not everyone was in agreement on whether or not Ordinance 2017-03 in its current form was the best solution. Dolan noted that the “ordinance is rather narrow” in its current state and that some updates should be made. Councilor Jim Butler also agreed, believing that approval of the ordinance should be postponed until the council can do more research on the matter in order to refine the ordinance.
Vice Chair John Farrell, on the other hand, believed action needed to be taken right then and there, considering how long the issue has been on the books. Thus, the council eventually gave unanimous approval to the ordinance, but with one major change: it would only last for a period of 60 days. As a result, action could still be taken to curb commercial water removal in the town, while still giving the council enough time to fully understand the gravity of the issue.