, Salem, MA

April 15, 2013

Letter: Protecting our drinking water supply

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Why is protecting your drinking water supply important to you specifically — and to all residents of Beverly, Salem and Wenham, whose drinking water is supplied by the Salem and Beverly Water Board?

Because protection, in the form of an updated ordinance (the Water Supply Protection Overlay District) will ensure your basic right to clean, ample drinking water.

On Tuesday, April 16, Beverly’s City Council and Planning Board will hold yet another joint public hearing on this issue. They will then decide whether to approve updated protection for your drinking water supply, which will meet new state and federal requirements and add better protection for the entire watershed.

It is important to note that our drinking water supply has only a certain amount of available water, and our increasing demand on that water has made it a precarious, finite resource. We can no longer take for granted the privilege of a sufficient supply of drinking water. We must pass better protective laws and educate ourselves to live within that limited water budget.

How can you help? Please attend this critical public hearing and voice your opinion for protection of your drinking water supply. The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers in Beverly City Hall, third floor, at 7 p.m.

Safe Drinking Water Alliance has been working for years to protect your drinking water supply. When we learned that the existing drinking water protection ordinance (1987) was seriously outdated, members from several groups, including the Wenham Lake Watershed Association, the North Beverly Environmental Action Committee, lay people and environmental professionals banded together to write an updated Water Supply Protection Overlay District ordinance. With added help and recommendations from Clean Water Action, the Ipswich River Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, we created a solid document that met all new state and federal requirements and presented it to the Beverly City Council for adoption in January 2011.

The updated, amended, proposed overlay district includes changes that:

delineate the watershed using the latest technology;

delineate three zones of protection, Zones A, B, and C;

add definitions to the ordinance so it can be a “stand-alone ordinance” and people who live within the watershed may get a copy to educate themselves about regulations concerning properties within the district;

designate an enforcement officer and enforcement measures to be taken when necessary;

further clarify uses that are prohibited and uses that are permitted by right and by special permit;

protect groundwater and the one remaining aquifer that is also a part of the watershed.

In January 2012 the City Council’s Committee on Legal Affairs recommended that an informal committee be created to discuss questions and opinions posed by other city agencies, including the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board and the Airport Commission. The committee worked for more than a year to make recommendations to improve the document.

A number of joint Council/Planning Board public hearings were then held. During one of those, we hit a brick wall when Beverly’s city planner threw out over a year’s worth of work to completely change every aspect of the committee’s revised document. Subsequently, the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board stated that it must do a study to determine if the Department of Environmental Protection is correct in its mapping of the watershed and its recommendations to protect our watershed. ... Thus the public hearing had to be postponed from November 2012 to April 2013.

Why has this process taken so long? And what is the purpose of these delays? These are serious questions that need to be answered by our city government.

Protection for our public drinking water supply is a quality-of-life issue. Our potable water supply needs protection from industrial development and potential airport expansion. We do not have enough flow from groundwater as a result of too much impervious surface that prevents water from being absorbed in the ground.

In Beverly, the watershed area for Wenham Lake Reservoir is zoned for light industry, an unfortunate planning decision over the past many years, compounded by industrial and residential subdivisions constructed around the reservoir. ... We are not saying “no” to development, we are simply requesting Beverly’s government to work with us to ensure a long-term, ample supply of clean drinking water for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and for future generations. ...

If Beverly’s government chooses instead to continue the same pattern of gobbling up our natural resources, further growth will result in an even more diminished groundwater and aquifer recharge capability, additional water loss from impervious materials, as well as exacerbating the problem of where will our water supply come from and at what cost.

What choice do you make? Say yes to protection for your drinking water supply. Please join us April 16.

Pam Kampersal

Dr. Mary Rodrick

Safe Drinking Water Alliance