Planning Looks at Regulation on Water Access, Quality, Cost

By John Seidenberg

With water being a prominent issue in terms of availability and quality, including issues with PFAS, officials are exploring possible municipal water regulation.
According to the town attorney, the town can enact a reasonable requirement for extension of municipal water utilities. “[But] we can’t require someone to extend a water utility… over a private site or private land,” Town Planner Colleen Mailloux told members of the Planning Board during a discussion at the June 9 virtual meeting.
Among surrounding communities, Merrimack, Salem, and Hooksett have no specific provisions on extending water, she noted.
Bedford and Derry do. That is based on Bedford’s subdivision regulations as to the number of new subdivision lots and overall distance from the nearest water main. Its availability is based on a public water supply being within a public right of way, she said.
For new lots created in Bedford there must be a connection made for nonresidential development if water is available. However, this doesn’t specify any extension.
Under Derry’s site plan, the provision is similar as to connecting if there is water although again no extension is implied, Mailloux pointed out. Water is only required to serve fire hydrants within 1,000 feet of a water main. Extension for fire hydrants no more than 500 feet from a development is also required. Individual lots don’t have to be connected.
Different communities must decide if it makes sense cost wise to connect to public water. In cases where extension of a water main was not financially feasible, the option of a community well system has been used rather than individual wells.
If a requirement to connect exists, there may be additional questions of needing booster pumps or booster stations or similar provisions. Engineering feasibility, elevation differences, obtaining easements, or physical impediments may be other factors, said Assistant Public Works Director John Trottier.
Vice Chair Chris Davies thought the Bedford regulations seemed the most comprehensive in covering fire and water service though residential water is a bigger issue in being able to hook up. Bedford also addresses service pressure in spite of engineering difficulties in doing that.
Requiring water systems can raise housing prices, said member Jake Butler, and he would be curious about that financial aspect, particularly in four or five house subdivisions as opposed to a 100-house subdivision.
Cost is a factor but water quality concern is growing over PFAS among residents, member Ann Chiampa said.
A separate matter is whether the fire department would prefer hydrants rather than residential sprinklers for houses. “The most effective means of getting water to a fire is through a fire hydrant,” Administrative Ex-Officio Bruce Hallowell stated. Home sprinklers are a means of egress out of a house but not to put a fire out.
Londonderry’s continued development results in more drawing off of a similar underground water table, he added, and the need to consider public utilities. That is in addition to PFAS pollution, arsenic, and other chemicals introduced and the subsequent need for water filtration systems.
Ex-Officio Deb Paul called for having hydrants within developments because of the close density of houses. Adding extra hydrants is something the town should be getting money for to offset the cost, she said. “We really need to come up with our own hybrid mixing both worlds, private and public [a private water company and Pennichuck] to be able to accomplish what we need to.”
“We really need to understand what the difference is for a homeowner who is paying a water bill when it makes sense for them to have a well in their backyard versus tapping into a municipal water system,” said member Lynn Wiles.
The cost could either be borne up front by the developer or by the homeowner later, member Jason Knights also emphasized.
Developers don’t pay anything they don’t pass on to someone else, said member Roger Fillio. They charge more when building houses or otherwise receive a tax break from the state, federal government, or the town.
Availability, cost of municipal water, and the site usually govern whether developers are looking for easy access to public water or want to install private wells.
On the matter of considering water service regulations, Londonderry would have to look at whether they’d apply, what actions the Public Utilities Commission might take, and see how many local developments could be required to connect.

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