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Cap Wells and Permanently Give Up Reading's Right to Draw Water from Ipswich?

Likelihood of using Ipswich water ‘zero,’ town manager says.

Should the town permanently abandon and cap the wells that used to draw water from the Ipswich River Basin before Reading joined the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for its water and razed its water treatment plant?

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is “interested in making permanent the inability of Reading to withdraw water from our former well fields in the future and, therefore, to maintain, at the very least, the current health of the river,” according to a memo from Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner to the Board of Selectmen.

Beyond the wells, the town would have to permanently relinquish its right to draw water from the river basin.

Two members of the state agency spoke with the selectmen last week.

“The potential use of the wells is,” Hechenbleikner wrote in a memo to the Board of Selectmen, “very remote.”  That’s because the MWRA is operationally strong, he wrote, in responding to emergency issues. “The likelihood of Reading taking water out of the Ipswich,” he said, is zero.”

If the town ever had to use the wells in an emergency, the water quality would be poor, according to the town manager – maybe even undrinkable. With the former water treatment plant now a field, the town would need approval – and a significant amount of money – to build a new one. The cost: $20 to $30 million, according to Deputy Regional Director of the Northeast Regional Office of MassDEP Eric Worrall. Going to the MWRA for its water is less expensive than building a new water treatment plant, Hechenbleikner said.

The town has kept the wells because the state environmental agency required them as an emergency water supply.  

“That means that the pump station had to be modified at significant cost and the wells had to all be kept operable,” according to Hechenbleikner.  The town has not spent “a lot of money” to keep the wells operable.

Over the life of the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, “we will spend significant funds to recondition the wells at an estimated cost of $75,000” for each of nine wells, according to Hechenbleikner.

“It drives me crazy” to spend money on “a system with no value,” he said.

The Ipswich River is much healthier since Reading stopped withdrawing its public water supply, the town manager said. But “it is still an endangered river.”

Hechenbleikner suggested that the town abandon the six wells with the least favorable water quality immediately, and the three with the most favorable water quality when the MWRA’s back-up water supply is connected and operating, in two to three years.

The selectmen took no action on the issue. They were concerned, they said, about permanently giving up the right to draw water from the river. Several said they were concerned that other communities will take the water Reading is not drawing from the river. No, said the DEP representatives, and new, stricter water withdrawal regulations are coming, said Beth Card, assistant commissioner of MassDEP’s Bureau of Resource Protection.

If the wells are abandoned and the town takes no more water from the river, the need for an aquifer protection area ends, commented Worrall.

Mary May 14, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Giving over the the MWRA totally was the worst mistake Reading ever made. The water tastes chemically treated. I grew up in a town that drew water from the MWRA. Rates went through the roof after they said they wouldn't increase cost. Please don't give up the rights to future generations.
Rob May 14, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Is it true that Reading residents are paying a surcharge to MWRA because we don't use enough water as a town?
Cathy M May 14, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I think the water tastes so much better. We used to have Poland Springs deliver jugs of drinking to us. The MWRA water is much better for our pipes and plumbling fixtures. It was a difficult decision but the town would have spent millions to construct a new water treatment plant and still, despite all our efforts and those of our award winning water treatment personnel, gotten an inferior result. In addition, we were helping to destroy a watershed and river. Plus the location of our wells made them susceptible to serious contamination. Our wells were already once damaged by a spill on the nearby highway.
Derek May 14, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Nadine please include the last year Reading stopped actively using the Ipswich River water as it's primary source. Our water bills are astronomical. The water tastes and smells like chlorine or some similar chemical. This has only been the last couple of years. If using the Ipswich River wells are a future way out to improve our water quality and/or costs please do not give this up. It may be expensive to reinstate, but what will the costs be over time to use the Ipswich River wells?
James Perry May 14, 2012 at 07:14 PM
What will become of The Reading Town Forest? Does the Reading Town Forest include a portion of the aquifer protection area?
M May 14, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Moreover, all of the summer water restriction regulations that were in place prior to the MWRA switchover stayed in place exactly the same after the switchover...and in the most recent communication from Town of Reading re: water bills, we are apparently being charged still more (i.e., being penalized) for not using the amount of water that they planned on...we are being financially penalized for doing what we are legally required to do. Still do not get it.
Fred Van Magness Sr. May 14, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Don't like MWRA??? Let me sum it up in three words...."get over it" ! The decision to go to MWRA was made many years ago after the BOS held up the final vote until the very first night a new BOS member was seated. The very first night ! FINAL means FINAL. Did I agree...NO. But I, like many others are stuck with it. We were fans of hard water....not soft. Bathing in this stuff is like a bubble bath ! But we do have a chance to set an inequity straight. Getting the Aquifer Protection overlay district lifted would be very helpful to a portion of the town residents that are unfairly burdened with an arbitrary restriction that has neighbors on one side of a street restricted from adding to their houses and the neighbor across the street has no restriction. It is VERY UNFAIR. And yes, the Town Forest is entirely in the Aquifer zone. Concerning water/sewer rates increasing 11%, it is based on an assumption that water usage will drop for another year....I am doubtful, especially with Poulte Homes and Oaktree adding to usage. Amortizing fixed costs over lower consumption results in increased rates (math). Get used to higher rates (probably 5-10% higher annually)...when repaying more MWRA debt hits the books. Debt issues abound everywhere !! Swell....
Joe Veno May 14, 2012 at 09:33 PM
To all you folks here in North Reading that think it would be a good thing to join into the MWRA water system and think it will not cost that much more please read these posts.
Mr White May 14, 2012 at 10:47 PM
@Fred Van Magness, So let me get this straight, by lifting the Aquifer Protection overlay district, additional construction would be allowed on property currently restricted to do so due to the rules in place. Right? Then I see an excellent opportunity for the town to solve some of it's current financial woes, all the town acreage that falls under this restriction could be developed commercially and, given it's proximity to 93 and being on the edge of town, the old treatment plant site and a good chunk of the Town Forest could be turned into enormous revenue generators thus relieving the residents of some of this huge financial burden we've "acquired". Sounds like a win/win to me;)
Karen Gately Herrick May 15, 2012 at 12:50 PM
When Reading joined MWRA we were burdened with a number of extra provisions including the Aquifer Protection District, the permanent water usage restrictions, and the maintenance of wells that we didn't use even when our water supply was in danger during the MWRA pipe break.. It was one thing to permanently get on board with the MWRA and support their capital intensive mission regardless of cost in the future (and our lack of local influence.) It is another thing entirely to be beholden to the State or MWRA permanently with respect to the Ipswich River water shed. Once the redundant water source is in place then Town management should request relief from ALL of these external restrictions so that the local community can decide the best use and management of the Town's resources. Unfortunately other "watershed" towns are not held to the same standards as Reading. I am fully confident that under our own management, Reading will continue to make decisions that weigh both the community and environmental realities. It's time to level the playing field. Residents in the Aquifer Protection District deserve relief from the excessively and unfairly burdensome building restrictions and expenses at the earliest date possible.
Karl Weld May 15, 2012 at 01:29 PM
"Residents in the Aquifer Protection District deserve relief from the excessively and unfairly burdensome building restrictions and expenses at the earliest date possible." But owners of potentially historic or architecturally significant properties don't, right Karen? It seems some property rights infringements are more burdensome than others. Well, at least in some people's eyes.
Karen Gately Herrick May 15, 2012 at 02:15 PM
@Karl. Our community could really benefit from positive contributions to this forum based on accurate facts and knowledge. But you can take comfort in the fact that you may bulldoze your home anytime you want to or add a patio to your backyard without going before the ZBA with expensive plans and installing a recharge system.
George May 15, 2012 at 02:44 PM
It was a huge mistake to give up our own water supply. The added cost to the consumer and the marginal improvement to a river that remains in danger anyway prove it. The environmental extremeists win again!
E May 15, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Joe, Why are you so anti waste water for North Reading? Reading and NR are apples and oranges. Would the Jordan's Furniture complex ever have considered North Reading on Septic? My five points: 1. NR can't even fulfill local requirements without purchasing water from Andover. 2. Reading has a much larger commercial tax base due to location and quite possibly a sewer system that provides infrastructure for business growth. I don't know anything about the decisions Reading made years ago with regards to the MWRA so please don't skewer me. 3. NR residents will continue to generate tax revenue for other communities (Reading, Middleton, Woburn, Andover, Wilmington, Danvers...etc) unless RT 28/Concord St can be transformed in a responsible manner via a modern sewer system. 4. If you don't like the taste of MWRA H20...be responsible and filter your drinking water. Atlas Water Systems in Middleton can help you out. Nice company!! Fred prefers hard water? I like suds and the use of far less detergent ultimately hitting our environment. 5. Drill an irrigation well soon before they are outlawed!! I look forward to the growing debate since we now have additional pro growth representation on the NR BOD. Sorry...gotta go fertilize my lawn. E
Karl Weld May 15, 2012 at 04:23 PM
It is a fact that in the bylaw, as written currently, the Historical Commission can place my property on a protected list and I can't appeal that designation (made by a consultant to that appointed body) without going to court if I don't want to wait six months (previously a whole year) to significantly renovate or demolish my property. If this community is truly serious about historic preservation AND maintaining some semblance of respecting personal property rights, instead of using a stick how about using a carrot in the form of a Historical Preservation Tax Credit.
John May 15, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Great points E (whoever you are)...don't try to talk logically to a guy who sees nothing wrong with flushing narcotics down the comode (Joe V.). John (whoever I am)
Joe Veno May 15, 2012 at 05:53 PM
E, I am not anti waste water for North Reading. The point I bring up is the expence to do it. It will be millions of dallars and I mean many millions of dollars. Also the huge increase in the water bills if we go to MWRA. I do not lnow if you paid attention during the last selectmen debates before the election but Mr. Foti said the town cound NOT afford to build and run a treatment center because of the cost of it. I am sure Mr. foti knows what he is saying because he is involved with the MWRA. I never commented about the taste of MWRA drinking water. Why do you opoint that out to me?
Joe Veno May 15, 2012 at 05:55 PM
John (Who ever you are) Yea I bet millions of people have died over the years because people have flushed pills down the drain.
peter lucci May 15, 2012 at 05:56 PM
What a shame that Karl backed out of the Selectmen's race (didn't turn in necessary sigs), that would have been a much better stage for the two of you going at it over your personal property situations, instead of banging away on your keyboards for the 20-25 people to read here on Patch. At least one of you had the guts to run for public office.
John May 15, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Brilliant comeback, we wouldn't have expected anything more!! Thank God you retired from the force, the last thing the RPD needs is a Safety Officer not supporting their efforts to "properly" dispose of narcotics. Again, no surprise here. John (whoever I am)

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