Fred Underhill’s visit to the Mattapoisett River Valley Water District Commission was more than pleasant for the sake of a reunion with old friends, but less than pleasant for the sake of the subject at hand.
Underhill, chairman of the Rochester Water Commission, attended the MRV’s Water District meeting to make members aware of an increase in the City of New Bedford’s water withdrawal permit per the state Department of Environmental Protection.
On August 25, the DEP issued draft water withdrawal permits for New Bedford and Taunton. According to Underhill, New Bedford gets all of its water from the Assawompset complex but withdraws it all and treats it all at Little Quittacas Pond in North Rochester.
Snipatuit Brook connects Assawompset Pond to Snipatuit Pond, and that, Underhill suggests, should have some concerns for the MRV.
Between New Bedford and Taunton, it was determined by a 1988 study that 27,500,000 gallons a day are drawn from Assawompset.
“As long as they stay within their volume, they don’t have to deal in mitigation,” said Underhill, citing 2018 DEP records that estimated total usage at 17,870,000 gallons per day.
New Bedford, he said, is permitted to withdraw 18,270,000 gallons per day, over 6 million more gallons than the 12,190,000 the city actually withdrew in 2018, nearly a 50 percent surplus over present usage. Add to that DEP’s new allowance for an additional 2,500,000 gallons per day, and Underhill is troubled.
Similarly, Taunton has been allowed to withdraw an additional 1,600,000 gallons per day, making the total additional impact nearly 3 illion gallons over safe yield amounts established by the DEP.
The Town of Rochester is planning to send the state a letter of objection to this latest measure; the deadline for response is 30 days from the August 25 announcement. Town Counsel Blair Bailey told MRV members that he will share a draft of his letter.
Marion DPW Director Nathaniel Munafo suggested a short MRV meeting next week to look over the draft and beat the deadline to respond. The next scheduled MRV meetings on October 12 would fall outside the legal timeline to respond to the DEP’s decision, but MRV members agreed to reconvene on Thursday, September 23, at 3:30 pm in order to review the letter to DEP to address the New Bedford and Taunton water withdrawal situation.
Members speculated as to the whys and wherefores of New Bedford’s request; an allocation officially sought on the basis of the Southcoast Rail project. None of the MRV members or Tata & Howard engineering consultants indicated that the rail project justifies the amount of withdrawal in the request, especially given the fact New Bedford already has been permitted 50 percent more withdrawal than what its history withdraws.
According to Underhill, New Bedford is in the business of selling water to other communities for profit that excludes the source towns, including Rochester. Municipalities reported to buy water from New Bedford include Dartmouth, Acushnet, Freetown (a small amount), Fairhaven (emergency use only), and Westport.
Citing New Bedford’s historic use of 13 million gallons per day, its existing allocation of 18 million and now a permission to go for 2,800,000 more, Bailey told MRV members, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a condition where they’ve given somebody more when they’re not even close to what they had previously.”
Paul Howard of the Tata & Howard engineering firm said he does not see the growth in the city to justify the request.
“We have no ability to touch any of that water because it’s all been allocated out to New Bedford and Taunton, even though it’s in our community. But that’s a Rochester problem,” said Underhill, noting that the problem also affects Middleborough and Lakeville as well.
MRV member Nick Nicholson said the MRV should go on record as making some kind of comment. He cited New Bedford’s loss of industry over the years and concluded, “They don’t need as much water.” Vinnie Furtado, Jeff Furtado, and Rick Charon noted their agreement.
In his Tata & Howard Report, Jon Gregory said that the engineering company sent its pilot testing report back to Koch on its Puron filter systems. Gregory will meet with Henri Renauld, facilities manager for the MRV, and Koch representatives on September 30.
The MRV voted to move forward with Tata & Howard on its Emergency Response Plan update. ERP training will be held for MRV member towns’ water departments on November 10 and 17 at the Music Hall in Marion.
In her Treasurer’s Report, Wendy Graves said that the MRV District Commission paid a total of $44,089.05 including large sums to Eversource ($4,464), ECA Holding Co. ($14,674,50), and Tata & Howard (close to $10,000 in three invoices).
Marion DPW Engineer and MRV member Meghan Davis is still seeking term expiration information on the MRV Water District Commission and Water Protection Supply Advisory Committee. Henri Renauld said he is waiting on the Mattapoisett Select Board, while Vinnie Furtado, the chairman of both commission and committee, and Jeff Furtado (also a member on both entities) holds indefinite appointments with the Town of Fairhaven.
In his Treasurer’s Report to the committee, Jeff Furtado reported paid invoices of $1,193.08 to Tata & Howard, $272.36 to Dave Watling, $153 to Megan McCarthy, and $50 to attorney Blair Bailey. The ending balance as of September 1 was $222,445.80.
Member emeritus David Pierce was thanked by Jeff Furtado for helping with assessments that have been sent out to member towns.
In addition to the customary approval by vote to pay invoices this month including $859.18 to Tata & Howard, Vinnie Furtado was given approval to write a letter on behalf of the MRV Water Protection Advisory Committee approving the canal canopy and dual use of the solar project at 109 Neck Road in Rochester, per Beals and Thomas’ request. The project consists of 1,300 linear feet of solar panels on top of bogs.
Rick Charon gave an update on Snipatuit Pond water sampling and reported that DEP scientist David Wong has catalogued all the ponds in southeast Massachusetts, identifying four invasive species.
Snow’s Pond water quality samples indicate the pond is in a pristine environment, so the DEP will not get involved per its policy of waiting to respond to problems. Snipatuit has two invasive species identified by state officials. Charon wants to talk with Wong and get a meeting with the Snipatuit Pond members. “We thought we were going to have to find someone to dig up for us, but it looks like a lot of that information is already in the hands of DEP,” he said.
The planned reorganization of the committee and the commission resulted in no changes.
The MRV will meet on Thursday, September 23, at 3:30 pm in order to review the letter to DEP to address the New Bedford and Taunton water withdrawal situation. The next regular meetings of the MRV Water District Commission and Water Protection Supply Committee are scheduled for Tuesday, October 12, at 3:30 pm and 4:00 pm.
MRV Water District Commission/Water Protection Supply Advisory Committee
By Mick Colageo