IPSWICH — COVID-19 is contributing to an increased demand for water in the 13 communities whose drinking water comes from the Ipswich River watershed.
That's because so many residents of those communities are now home all day instead of at the office or in school, said Wayne Castonguay, executive director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association. There has been approximately a 20% increase in demand since the start of the pandemic.
And it comes after a winter with little of the snowfall that typically replenishes the groundwater supply with slowly melting snow, and a relatively dry spring. Forecasts call for a long dry stretch ahead as well.
"Everyone is very worried," Castonguay said Wednesday.
On June 25, the day the state declared a significant drought, the flows in the Ipswich River were below the level measured on the same day in 2016, a year that brought a drought that dried out streams and killed fish.
Five of the communities served by wells within the watershed have implemented restrictions - Danvers, Middleton, Hamilton, Wenham and Lynnfield. The restrictions bar unnecessary water use, such as lawn sprinklers, washing cars and filling pools.
Castonguay said he isn't certain that will be enough.
In addition to asking that other communities on the North Shore consider water use restrictions, Castonguay was meeting on Wednesday with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to discuss the organization's "Net Zero" water use policy.
The proposal calls for enhancing water conservation practices, such as ultra-efficient fixtures and limits on non-essential water use. Developers could offset increased demands for water by paying into a "water bank" that would be used to update systems, repair leaks and setting rules about the use of private wells.
The proposal also calls for development that allows for water to remain in the watershed.
A number of other communities on the North Shore, Cape Ann and lower Merrimack Valley have implemented some restrictions, including Ipswich, Topsfield, Rowley, Salisbury, Merrimac and West Newbury.
In Beverly and Salem, which obtains water from the Salem-Beverly Water Supply Board, officials aren't expecting shortages at this point since it relies on reservoirs, including Wenham Lake, for its supply, said Superintendent Peter Smyrnios.
"Our reservoirs are well supplied to handle the droughts," said Smyrnios. "We're in good shape."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.