Issues at one of the town’s wells and delays in getting a replacement well up and running may trigger water conservation efforts this fall.
At the bi-annual Water Supply Protection Committee meeting on September 16, Assistant Superintendent of Public Works, Amy Rusiecki said Well #4 is producing about 150 gallons per minute, approximately 15% of what it had produced in the past. A replacement well has been drilled but is not yet operational.
With college campuses full this fall and water use highest in September and October, this may trigger notices to town residents to conserve water. Rusiecki said the primary driver of heavy water usage is hot weather (i.e., above 85 degrees). Consecutive days of high temperatures would likely require water curtailment, she said. “If we see some hot days coming, we plan to send out pre-emptive messages to the community asking folks to curtail their typical usage,” Rusiecki said.
Anna Martini, Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies at Amherst College, said she first learned about the water supply issues in a department meeting at the college where concern was expressed that they may have to “send students home” due to water scarcity. Rusiecki said this scenario is highly unlikely. “It should be fine as long as we don’t get consecutive days of high heat,” Rusiecki said. She cautioned, however, that until Well #4 is online, “the loss of a [water] source or a major fire will really stress us out.”
According to town Environmental Scientist Beth Willson, delivery of the replacement well pump and motor have been delayed due to COVID-related supply chain issues. Willson said she hopes the parts will be delivered next month and the well will be operational in November.
The Town water supply system currently has seven sources that include the Atkins Reservoir in Shutesbury and Amherst, the Pelham Reservoirs (Hills, Hawley, and Intake), the South Amherst wells (#1 & #2), the Brown well (#3), the Lawrence Swamp well (#4), and the Bay Road well (#5). Well #4 is located off South East Street.
In July 2020, the Amherst Town Council approved borrowing $350,000 for replacing Well #4. The debt service on the borrowing will be repaid out of the water fund, which is primarily funded by increased water rates. The borrowing was part of a package of water and sewer infrastructure projects totalling $18.6 million, which included $11 million for the replacement of the Centennial Water Treatment Plant. Cost estimates for the Centennial project have since escalated to $13.8 million. According to Rusiecki, the Centennial project will be put out to bid this fall.