MassDEP & Town of Leicester: Water Management In Leicester Executive Summary
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Turning on the faucet every morning, clear water flows out in a steady stream. Now, imagine if the water that flowed out of the faucet began to make you sick. Between 1989 and 1990 in the town of Cabool, Missouri, there were 240 cases of diarrhea and six deaths due to E. coli found in the drinking water (Lund, 2002). An investigation by the Center for Disease Control and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) found the cause of the illness was due to line breaks in their water distribution system, allowing contaminants to get into the water supply after treatment (Lund, 2002). Although these events were unfortunate, they showcase the importance of protecting the purity and quantity of drinking water for the public well-being.
All Massachusetts public drinking water management systems must comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) as well as the Massachusetts Water Management Act (MWMA). The SDWA sets standards for over 80 contaminants that may be found in drinking water. Additionally, the SDWA requires all public water systems to distribute annual reports to its consumers that includes information on the system’s water sources, water contaminants and associated health risks, and any improvements that were made to the water system. (United, 2004). The MWMA gives authority to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to regulate the quantity of water withdrawn from both surface and groundwater sources (Massachusetts, 2015a). This act ensures that there are sufficient water supplies for current and future generations. In order to achieve that goal, the MWMA makes public water suppliers accountable for any water losses throughout their system (Massachusetts, 1996). Water systems that do not comply with the SDWA or MWMA are issued Notices of Non-Compliance.
One town that is trying to comply with the SDWA and MWMA is the Town of Leicester, MA. Leicester is located within Worcester County and is situated on three watersheds: the Chicopee, French, and Blackstone. As of 2015, 72% of Leicester’s 23.36 square miles were open land, providing the town with the opportunity to expand through smart-growth projects (CMRPC2). However, the limited supply of water in Leicester hindered most of the smart growth projects and other economic development projects. The development projects would not have been provided with sufficient water for necessary fire suppression systems or basic water uses. Leicester is unique in that their public water system is made up of three water districts: Leicester Water Supply District, Hillcrest Water Supply District, and Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District. Each of the water districts were facing challenges in meeting state regulations and providing an adequate supply of water to their customers.
In 2015, the Town of Leicester reached out to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Massachusetts Water Resource Outreach Center (WROC) for assistance with identifying the most feasible approach to comply with water quality requirements and increase its capacity to meet current and projected water needs. Our project goal was to identify the challenges Leicester’s three water districts were facing and provide a cost-benefit analysis for available improvements in order to meet the water quality standards and water demand in Leicester, Massachusetts. In order to accomplish this goal we developed the following five objectives:
1. Gather information on the current and projected water demands of residents in Leicester.
2. Identify the water districts’ challenges in meeting regulation requirements.
3. Using GIS, generate a map of the Town of Leicester with geographic water management system attributes.
4. Identify potential changes to improve Leicester’s water management system.
5. Develop comparative analysis of proposed improvements based on gathered data.
In order to accomplish these objectives we conducted semi-structured interviews, reviewed water reports, and researched case studies. We spoke with representatives from Leicester’s three water districts, water consultants, MassDEP drinking water officials, and local water departments. We gathered data from Leicester’s water districts’ 2014 Annual Water Quality Reports and 2014 Annual Statistical Reports.
The Town of Leicester is primarily a residential town of owner-occupied, single family homes. Specifically, there are more than 3,000 owner-occupied housing, about 900 renter-occupied housing, and approximately 300 vacant buildings (CMRPC, n.d.). As of 2010, Leicester had a population of 10,970 people living within these housing units. Population projections done by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC, 2010) indicated that the population would reach almost 11,500 by 2020 and almost 12,500 people by the year 2040. Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District and Leicester Water Supply District would continue to contribute most of its finished water to this population.
We projected the water demand within the Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District would increase from approximately 95.73 MGY to 102.47 MGY from 2014 to 2024. The Leicester Water Supply District water demand would also increase from 73.41 MGY reported in 2014 rises to 74.88 MGY in 2024. These calculations were based on Leicester’s projected growth rates and the water districts reported usage in their 2014 Annual Statistical Reports. There are no projections for Hillcrest Water Supply District’s water demand because the information concerning their water usage in different sectors was not available at the time.
We identified four major issues that one or more of the districts have dealt with in the past. These issues consist of the limited oversight and staffing, water quantity and supply issues, water quality issues, and the inability to take advantage of economies of scale. Knowing these issues within Leicester and its water districts, we analyzed several approaches the water districts could use to improve their water systems. We concluded that privatization would not work for Leicester’s water districts. Privatization involves the complete sale of a water utility’s assets to a private company for operation and maintenance. After speaking with Mike Knox from the Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District, Don Lennerton from the Leicester Water Supply District, and Kevin Mizikar, the town administrator, we learned all parties agreed complete privatization of the water systems was not in the best interest of the town (personal communication, November 2, 2015). Because Leicester’s residents are used to voting for water commissioners to represent them, they may not want a private entity controlling their system (K. Mizikar, personal communication, November 16, 2015).
Forming an interconnection with the City of Worcester would allow water districts to purchase water from the Worcester Water Department by connecting their water systems. This would likely not provide a steady and reliable supply for the three water districts for the foreseeable future, due to the fact that Worcester is reaching its permitted level of water it can pump. Phil Guerin, Director of the Worcester Water Department, stated that his first priority is to the department’s current customers and honoring its contracts with Holden and Paxton who already have interconnections in place (personal communication, November 15, 2015). To supply the entire Town of Leicester, Worcester would need to sell additional water which would put them even closer to their permit level.
There are many different ways that the water districts could consolidate to improve their water quality and quantity issues. Consolidation is a restructuring option involving two or more water systems to help resolve their issues. The water districts could consolidate through physical connections of their distribution systems. Another approach to consolidation would be to unify the districts under either a coordinator/representative or one managerial body (C. Dehner and K. Mizikar, personal communication, December 3, 2015). Both approaches have the same benefit of reducing costs by eliminating duplicate costs. Duplicate costs include maintaining more treatment facilities than necessary or having more than one billing department for one town. Consolidating also results in combining capital and resources that may lead to improvements within the water system and a sufficient supply of water. If Leicester’s three water districts consolidated into one district, further studies must ensure the system would have sound infrastructure between districts. Another factor to consider would be how to manage the new district. To take one step further on the spectrum of restructuring options, we also consider Moose Hill Reservoir as a possible water source for Leicester.
Moose Hill Reservoir, located in the northwestern section of town, has an adequate water volume to be the primary source of water for the town. An initial study conducted in 1966 by SEA consultants concluded that Moose Hill Reservoir has enough water to supply the entire Town of Leicester (Sanitary, 1966). However in order for Moose Hill Reservoir to become a drinking water source, a treatment plant needs to be built. This plan would be a costly endeavor, and the Moose Hill Water Commission estimated that the total cost of building a water treatment facility and distribution system improvements at $5,843,437 (SEA, 1986). One method to bring this plan to fruition was to have the town fund the project and become a water wholesaler for the districts.
We provided several recommendations for the Town of Leicester and its water districts. For a short term solution to meet Cherry Valley & Rochdale Water District’s water demand, we recommend that the district forms an interconnection with the City of Worcester and begin the process of purchasing water from their system. Also, Hillcrest Water Supply should continue buying water from Leicester Water Supply District as a short term solution to meet their customer’s water demand. Meanwhile, all three water districts should work towards consolidating their water districts in the long term. The Town of Leicester should work with
Moose Hill Water Commission to fund the initial studies needed to classify Moose Hill Reservoir as a drinking water source. Then, the newly consolidated water district should commit to using Moose Hill Reservoir as their main water source.
The water districts in Leicester have been working to improve their water systems to meet the quality standards and the demand of their residents. The approaches we have identified outline long term and short term investments, ranging from consolidation to interconnecting with Worcester for additional water, that serve as a means for the districts to work together in various capacities. In addition to these approaches, we have provided a GIS map of the Town of Leicester’s three districts that highlights the details for implementing any one of our plans. This map, and the project as a whole, encourages the water districts to pool resources and work