New Water Use Restrictions and Speed Limits for Amherst


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Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Town Council, June 17, 2024. Part 1
Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke, Andy Steinberg, Ellisha Walker (at large), Freke Ette and Cathy Schoen (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), George Ryan and Hala Lord (District 3), Pam Rooney and Jennifer Taub (District 4), Ana Devlin Gauthier and Bob Hegner (District 5).

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Restriction of Outdoor Water Use During Times of Drought
Amy Rusieki, Assistant Superintendent of Public Works, informed the town council at the June 17 meeting that the state now requires the town to immediately place restrictions on outdoor water use during times of drought as declared by the Secretary of State. The severity of the drought will also be declared by the Secretary of State and will determine the extent of the restriction. The town must develop enforcement mechanisms by April 2025, but the restrictions will apply this summer. 

Level 1 (Mild drought): lawn watering permitted one day per week, before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Level 2 (Significant drought): All nonessential water uses are banned, with a couple of carve-outs.

Level 3 (Critical drought) and Level 4 (Drought emergency): all nonessential water usage is banned, with few carve-outs.

Essential outdoor water use is watering for health or safety reasons, such as for cooling shelters, splash pads, and town pools, as well as water needed for food production, such as for gardens, farms, and livestock. Also, some limited water use for core functions of certain businesses, e.g. plant nurseries, golf courses, and wedding venues. Irrigation of public parks, shade trees, and establishment of new lawns are excluded from the restrictions. Restrictions must remain in place until the Secretary of State declares that drought conditions no longer exist. 

Town Manager Paul Bockelman praised the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Town Services and Outreach (TSO) committee of the council for updating the water regulations last year, so Amherst is ready to comply with the regulations. He added that it is important to understand that even if it is green and verdant here, the restrictions may be enacted by the Secretary of State if there is a drought elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Rusieki said the last time a drought was declared in Amherst was in 2016.

DPW Surveying All Water Service Lines for Lead and Copper
Spurred by the contamination of Flint, Michigan’s water with lead that was uncovered in 2016, the federal government is now requiring all water suppliers to inventory their water service lines for the presence of lead or copper pipes. Rusieki said there are about 10,000 service lines in Amherst, and the DPW must submit information to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their composition from where they leave the water main to where they “go through concrete into a basement.” This includes every building on the college campuses and UMass. The EPA wants the information by October, 2024.

Rusieki said the department has been working on compiling this information for several years, but will kick into high gear this summer. She said that every Amherst property owner will receive a five-minute survey to answer questions about their water line and  submit a photo to the DPW. If most people respond to the survey, it will save the DPW time because it will only have to fill in gaps in information. On occasion, they might have to inspect the lines.

Rusieki added that the town has been updating water meters since 2014. The new meters can be read remotely. A benefit of the service line inventory is that homeowners will know if they have an outdated meter and can make an appointment with the DPW to have a new one installed. The new meters have a gray plastic box attached to the side of the meter inside the house, so no exterior meter is needed. 

Henry Street Gets Its Safety Zone
With a unanimous vote the council acted on the longstanding request from parents and residents near the Cushman Scott Children’s Center for improved traffic safety around the school. After a traffic study, the Town Services and Outreach (TSO) committee recommended that a quarter-mile safety zone be established along Henry Street from Market Hill Road to 300 feet south of Pine Street. 

The safety zone would mean a speed limit of 20 miles per hour in that stretch of road. Other measures being considered are a high visibility crosswalk, relocating the parking lot for the center to the same side of the street as the school, and speed humps. Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring told the councilors that the DPW will begin developing a plan to improve the safety of the stretch of road in the fall and hopefully implement it next spring.

Council Votes to Lower Speed Limits 
TSO recommended that speed limits on roads in “thickly settled” residential areas and business districts that do not have a posted speed limit be lowered from 30 to 25 miles per hour. The vote was 12-1, with Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke voting no. Hanneke said that she could not vote for this proposal because she had not seen a map that indicated which streets would be affected.

Mooring said that to change speed limits on roads with posted speeds requires an involved process that includes an engineering study and extensive documentation, especially for state roads. The DPW will decide how to best implement the 25 mph speed limit throughout town.

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3 thoughts on “New Water Use Restrictions and Speed Limits for Amherst

  1. So happy to hear that Henry St and the Cushman-Scott Children’s Center has finally been granted its safety zone!

  2. Lead itself isn’t really the problem — it’s when water sits in the pipes and particularly when it is acidic water because acid causes lead to leach out, that’s really what happened in Flint. I don’t know the PH of Amherst’s water — I do know that the MWRA is raising the pH of the Quabbin water and has been for some time. And this is why you run the faucet first thing in the morning until the water gets cold, it’s the stagnant water that will have the lead in it.

    And you can pay for your own water tests — there is an outfit in Belchertown that does them — and if I had a small child in the house, I might. Just to feel better.

  3. According to the DPW, Town of Amherst water varies in pH from the various water sources but is generally in the 7.5-8.0 range (which is not acidic).

    They recommend to anyone who wants to pursue their own independent water testing to ask the lab about proper sampling techniques. That will help to ensure that folks are using the most recent procedures to get a result the is accurate.

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