Leicester Water District Analysis Executive Summary
In July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of human rights (United Nations General Assembly, July 2010). Across the United States, municipalities require water of adequate quality and quantity in order to support residential, commercial, and industrial water demands. This requires the presence of a robust water management system that can ensure these essential conditions are taken care of. Municipalities that encounter issues with water management put their residents at risk of serious health complications. A contemporary example of this is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that began in April, 2014. As with Flint, numerous towns and cities have been experiencing issues with water management and face the challenge of reforming municipal systems.
In Massachusetts, sixty percent of the lakes, streams, rivers and marine waters that have been tested for contaminants are impaired by various pollutant sources ranging from waste water treatment plant discharge to storm water runoff (Morris et al, 2007). In addition, “drinking water shortages have become a common occurrence” (Mullin, 2009) all across the United States due to growing population demand. The Town of Leicester, Massachusetts, is suffering from limited economic development due to an inadequate supply of water available for use. Additionally, the water sources that are currently used experience various issues related to contamination. At present, Leicester has three independently operating water districts serving residents of the town (Water & Sewer, n.d.).
From October to December 2015, a student team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) Massachusetts Water Resource Outreach Center (WROC) worked on a project to investigate possible recommendations to improve the water management system in Leicester (Nivarthi et al, 2016). In the Nivarthi et al report, they recommended that the town move toward water district iv consolidation and explore Moose Hill Reservoir as the town’s main water source. Aiming to build on these recommendations, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Leicester Town Manager reached out to our project group.
In collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and Leicester’s Town Manager, we analyzed the feasibility of incorporating a collaborative water management system for the Town of Leicester, Massachusetts. Our team explored the viability of functional coordination and resource sharing among each of Leicester’s three independently operating water districts, the Town of Leicester and the Moose Hill Commission, to help alleviate issues of water quality and quantity for current and future water needs. In order to achieve this goal, we developed the following six objectives.
1. Identify the state of water management issues in Leicester.
2. Identify towns and cities with existing methods of resource sharing
3. Analyze the feasibility of applying various methods of resource sharing to Leicester
4. Explore and develop approaches for connecting Moose Hill Reservoir and Shaw Pond to the town’s collaborative water management system
5. Utilize feedback from sponsors and stakeholder representatives on potential recommendations for Leicester
6. Develop a detailed list of recommendations for Leicester’s future water needs
To accomplish the objectives mentioned above, we reviewed various consumer confidence drinking water reports, researched other towns and cities that have experienced similar challenges and conducted interviews and focus groups. We interviewed representatives from each of Leicester’s three water districts, members of the drinking water department of the MassDEP, water consultants and water wholesalers. Throughout our research, we facilitated several sponsor meetings which functioned as mini focus groups with members of the MassDEP; the Leicester Town Manager, v Kevin Mizikar and the Town Planner, Michelle Buck. Additionally, we conducted a working focus group meeting with attendees from Leicester’s water districts, the Town and the Moose Hill Commission.
A significant portion of Leicester’s future economic growth and development rests on a collaborative continuum of resource sharing by each of Leicester’s three water districts, the Moose Hill Commission and the Town of Leicester. This continuum of resource sharing would help the Town to develop economically, and increase quality of life for its residents. We categorized our findings into the following themes that essentially looked beyond the tap, for future economic growth by assessing the future water needs in the town.
Existing Methods of Resource Sharing
Other towns and cities similar to Leicester across the United States have explored the idea of resource sharing. Some of the main reasons for increased cooperation are much needed capital upgrades, prevention of further contamination to water sources and providing equitable services. Towns with multiple water districts are very unique. The 19 towns and cities we researched are similar to Leicester in terms of population, number of water districts and number of sewer districts. Figure 1 below illustrates that in Massachusetts, nine out of 351 towns and cities in MA have three or four water districts. This is only 2.5% of all the municipalities in the state. vi Figure 1: Map Showing Municipalities in Massachusetts and their Water Districts
Water availability is becoming a bigger issue for the Town of Leicester. As such, other sources in the town have been assessed for possible use. The Moose Hill Reservoir is a potential drinking water source located in Leicester that has the ability to supply the entire town with water. The reservoir is still untouched and has yet to be capitalized upon. A study conducted in 1966 by SEA Consultants Inc. looked at the feasibility of incorporating Moose Hill Reservoir into the water supply system in Leicester. The study suggested that the reservoir would be able to supply 1.5 million gallons of water per day (Sanitary, 1966), which is approximately 2.5 times more water than the entire town uses at present (Moose Hill, 2008). In an interview with Eric Burkett & Russell Tierney of WhiteWater Inc., it was estimated that the current cost of constructing a new treatment plant at the reservoir is approximately $18-21 million (Eric Burkett & Russell Tierney, personal communication, April 21, 2016). This is too expensive for any one water district to bear on its own. If the water districts and the town want to utilize this source, they would have to come to an agreement on sharing resources to make it possible. It is important to note that Moose Hill Reservoir cannot be at a standstill for much longer due to increasing costs (Kurt Parliment, focus vii group, April 14, 2016). Kurt Parliment, a member of the Moose Hill Commission, urged that water districts work together in some capacity to take advantage of the Reservoir before it is too late.
Additionally, aging infrastructure puts Leicester at a disadvantage for future collaboration with water entities in the town. For water districts that are owned and operated separately from their town, the cost associated with infrastructure upgrades can be too much to incur, without significantly impacting its ratepayers. The piping for the various distribution systems in Leicester can be dated to as far back as the 1890s. These water pipes have a lifespan of anywhere between 120-130 years, and they have exceeded their span (Mike Knox, focus group, April 14, 2016). There is a scale of urgency in the distribution systems in Leicester. For the Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District alone, it will cost up to $3.5 million for capital improvements in the district (Mike Knox, focus group, April 14 2016). Each water district in Leicester is currently investing in improving their distribution system by building new treatment plants and laying new water infrastructure among others, however, none of the money from these service upgrades contribute to the improvement of the distribution system.
Funding for water infrastructure is an essential part of securing a sustainable, high quality water source and distribution system for the Town of Leicester. Various forms of funding exist including the State Revolving Fund for planning and upgrades, the Mass Works grant and creating an earmark in the town’s budget. Without proper funding in place, the rate payers are likely to bear the cost of moving forward and this may cause resistance among Leicester residents.
The Town of Leicester, its three water districts and the Moose Hill Commission have to collaborate to create a Leicester Future Plan to propose to regulatory agencies like the MassDEP, in order for these agencies to in turn work with them for the overall betterment of the town. The viii MassDEP is willing to work with the Town of Leicester provided that each entity jointly produces a concrete plan for moving forward (Andrea Briggs, focus group, April 14, 2016).
However, the water districts are tentative about putting anything together without a formal commitment from the MassDEP (Kevin Bergin, focus group, April 14, 2016). In order to facilitate communication between parties, the Town Administrator, Kevin Mizikar, agreed to act as the liaison. As liaison, Mr. Mizikar will combine the ideas and thoughts of the Leicester entities and propose a condensed summary to the MassDEP, to help identify exactly what the MassDEP is willing to work with the water districts on.
The residents of each water district need to learn about the town wide water struggles. Because of the separate districts in Leicester, most residents are not aware of the challenges faced by the town (Kevin Bergin, focus group, April 14, 2016). Educating them on these issues could potentially help get them involved. This needs to take place in both the short and long term. Emphasizing the importance of safe drinking water to the residents could spark progress (Kurt Parliment, focus group, April 14, 2016).
Through our research, interviews and participation in focus group discussions, we have formulated several recommendations for the Town of Leicester, the town’s three water districts and the Moose Hill Water Commission.
We recommend that the Town of Leicester form a Water Prioritization Committee to continue the conversation of functional cooperation with the town, the water districts and the Moose Hill Commission. The committee could consist of officials that are appointed by each water district, the Moose Hill Commission, the town management and planning committees, and an at-large Leicester resident (not a customer of a water district). Also, a subcommittee for education could also be ix formed with members of the Leicester Community Action Corporation (LCAC), the Leicester Business Association and a member from each of the Parent Teacher Organizations of Leicester’s four schools as representatives. This would insight residents to want to learn more, ask more questions and make inquiries both at town hall and water district meetings.
We recommend that the Water Prioritization Committee focus on the following:
Recommendation 1: Conduct weekly meetings to create a Leicester Water Future Plan to discuss with the MassDEP
In the focus group meeting on April 14th, 2016, the Leicester Town Manager, Kevin Mizikar, has agreed to act as a middleman, if necessary, to facilitate open discussions between the commissioners of the water districts and members of the MassDEP so that they can figure out a way to collaborate and help achieve Leicester’s goals regarding its water needs.
Recommendation 2: Strengthen the relationship between the Town and the Water districts
The town of Leicester is willing to play a bigger role in helping the water districts provide quality water for their residents. According to an agreement, signed in 2003 between the Leicester Water Supply District and the Board of Selectmen, the Town has agreed to lay down sewer pipes along the west end of Route 9 in Leicester. Town Manager, Kevin Mizikar, expressed that the town would be more than willing to hire consultants to conduct a new feasibility study on the construction of a new treatment plant near Moose Hill Reservoir, so that the water districts do not have to bear this cost (Kevin Mizikar, focus group, April 14, 2016)
Recommendation 3: Development of the Moose Hill Reservoir as a drinking water source
Moose Hill cannot continue in a standstill for much longer. Using Moose Hill would provide the entire town with 1.5 million gallons per day, which allows residents that are currently connected to water district systems to have safe reliable water and it also allows for more residents to have access to public water. This would be aiding the Town’s mission for economic growth. We recommend that Moose Hill be developed as a drinking water source.
Recommendation 4: Assist the town with planning for future improvement and implementation of water infrastructure
We recommend that the Town of Leicester and each of its water districts should work collaboratively to invest in town-wide capital improvements that will include replacing aging infrastructure in the town. As part of the Water Priority Committee’s role, the committee will oversee that each water district allocates funding towards improvement of their systems, to allow sustain any current and future growth in the town’s water demand needs. Additionally, laying new water and sewer infrastructure in underdeveloped areas is recommended. Laying new infrastructure will help to increase the town’s tax base by attracting commercial and economic development in smart growth areas.
Recommendation 5: Continually work towards the long term goal of consolidation
Currently, each water district is plagued with similar issues, but all struggle with maintaining compliance. In the long term, we recommend that the water districts combine into one water district. This however, is only achievable through district voting. Becoming one water district with a new enabling act will allow for reduced operational and administrative costs, and would allow for ratepayers funding to be collectively focused on maintaining compliance with drinking water regulations.
Recommendation 6: Assist the Town with Applying for a Mass Works Grant for capital improvements
Proper interconnections between the water districts are necessary so that water from one district can flow to the other districts in times of emergencies and with minimal water loss. However, the water districts are currently using most of their resources to operate the districts and upgrading their infrastructure to keep in compliance with the regulations enforced by the MassDEP. Therefore, we recommend that the Town of Leicester apply for a Mass Works grant in order to pay for these interconnections that can be used not only for emergencies, but on a daily basis. Laying new pipes and improving the existing interconnections would also help to improve Leicester’s aging distribution system that was discussed in section 4.4. We believe that the town would have made a xi move forward in the right direction as this might foster some cooperation between the town’s water entities.
Recommendation 7: Work with various community state holders to education residents of Leicester’s water challenge
Each zone managed by each of Leicester’s three water districts functions as their “own town” and not as a unified Town of Leicester. As such, many of the residents in the Town of Leicester are unaware of the challenges that each water district faces. Consequently, the residents are unaware of how these challenges directly affect them. Therefore, it should be one of the Water Prioritization Committee’s top priorities to work jointly with the town, each water district and the Moose Hill Commission to educate the residents of the town. This educational initiative can be done through television programming offered through the Leicester Community Action Corporation (LCAC) television program. Similarly, education can spread through indirect means such as through Parent Teacher Organizations or the Leicester Business Association. These organizations represent residents and businesses in the Town of Leicester who will significantly contribute to Leicester’s future development. Through education, these organizations can spark open conversation in the town that will help the Water Prioritization Committee to advocate and advertise some of the opportunities the Town of Leicester has, meeting the future water needs in the town.
The Town of Leicester, the three water districts and the Moose Hill Commission, are at a unique time in history when many decisions for the future are being made. Through, cooperation and planning each entity stands to benefit. Therefore, with our recommendations, the Town of Leicester will be able to meet its current and future water needs, while still aligning with the town’s vision for economic growth and development.
Water is a vital resource that the Town of Leicester has available; each water supplier in the town has made strides to improve their systems, keep compliant and meet the demands of their residents. There are great opportunities for functional coordination and resource sharing. Currently, xii each water district functions as a separate town essentially, however, with the recommendations outlined, it is our hope that each entity sees the gains from working together for the future economic growth and development of the Town of Leicester.