Chatham Bans Outdoor Watering Amid Drought and Offline Wells

Dr. Robert Duncanson

CHATHAM – Chatham town officials said the latest samples from town wells show a continued amount of PFAS contamination above maximum allowed levels, prompting the town to take another well offline and implement heavier-handed water use restrictions for residents.

According to Natural Resources Director Dr. Robert Duncanson, Well #8 has now joined Well #5 in being taken offline since detection of higher than allowed PFAS levels.

Well #4 is also offline pending more tests and approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Duncanson said that the latest test of Well #8 utilized raw and treated samples—two of each.

“Out of the four samples, three of those were above the maximum contaminant level of 20 parts per trillion,” said Duncanson. 

“They were only slightly above. One was at 20.5, one was 20.1, one 20.2 and the fourth result was slightly below at 19.8. So on the basis of that information early Friday morning Well #8 was shut down and taken offline,” said Duncanson. 

According to DEP regulations, who determine contaminant levels through quarterly averages the well did not exceed maximum regulated level, though the town still opted to keep the well offline.

“We talked about bringing it back, but the decision was made to keep the well offline until it could be discussed with the board as well as for the public perception,” said Duncanson. 

Duncanson said that the region is still in a drought condition, and are as such the town should consider more “draconian” water restrictions, including a total ban on outdoor watering alongside reducing watering to only 2 days a week for even and odd numbered addresses, each, with no outdoor watering at all on Wednesday, Saturday or and Sunday. 

With only one inch per week of water necessary for most outdoor plants, Duncanson said that would be more than enough time to water.

On the testing front, Barr said that existing water restrictions have helped keep stress on the system down while testing is performed on the wells.

Board Vice-Chair Shareen Davis said that without much rain or the use of Well #4, she supported the more extreme total outdoor water ban until that well is back online. 

Duncanson said that whatever restrictions are implemented, they shouldn’t hinge on the operation of Well #4.

“Unless we get a substantial snow melt this summer, which none of us knows whether or not that will happen, we’re going to continue in this drought situation and more than likely still be in a drought next summer,” said Duncanson,

He recommended an open-ended ban that will be in effect through the winter, after the town can review rainfall amounts.

“Well #4 is not necessarily the solution to this entire problem,” said Duncanson. 

Select board members voted to enact an immediate ban on outdoor watering, with further review later during the winter. 

Board members said that the town will also reach out to irrigation companies about the ban. 

Violating the ban can result in a warning for the first offense, and $100 and $200 fines for second and third offenses, respectively. 

Private well owners are also asked by the town to take similar water-use measures into consideration, as they draw from the same aquifer. 

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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