By Gina Snyder
Ten years after my hometown of Reading, Mass., joined the regional water supply system and stopped pumping the groundwater wells that supplied our drinking water, northeast Massachusetts and much of New England is in the worst drought in decades. Before we stopped pumping in 2006, droughts like we’ve had this summer would have turned the Ipswich River into a dry riverbed littered with dead fish. This summer it did not.
Before Reading bought into the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority drinking water system, every second or third year the Ipswich River would go dry. The drought of 2016 has given us reason to celebrate the Town Meeting vote of 2006.
In September, I got together with some of my fellow Reading Stream Team members to re-enact a locally famous kayak-without-any-water (“Got Water?”) picture taken in 2002, the year of a severe drought but not as severe as this year. At the time the Ipswich River Watershed Association brought together Stream Teamers and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs at the river to show the conditions. We could not quite reproduce the photo we took then this year since there’s water in the river!
A Stream Team member positioned her kayak while two other members held the famous poster “Got Water?” and I took the picture.
Even before the vote of a decade ago, Reading had a strong water conservation program, distributing on average no more than 55 gallons of water per person per day (below the state Department of Environmental Protection Water Conservation Standard of 65 gallons per capita per day). But conditions were dire nonetheless, with groundwater withdrawals exceeding 2.5 million gallons a day on some of the hottest summer days.
Reading’s water conservation program has continued to show the success it had before switching to the MWRA. Lawn watering is restricted throughout the year, and the Town provides free rain gauges and irrigation timers. A rain gauge helps homeowners determine when the garden, flowers or lawn need watering. The irrigation timer attaches to a garden hose to control how long the sprinkler stays on.
The conservation program will replace homeowners’ garden hose nozzles to help save water when watering outside. The nozzle has an adjustable setting to help water properly. The town also provides faucet aerators to reduce water flow, low-flow showerheads, and leak detection tablets. And, if a homeowner has to replace that leaky toilet, Reading will provide a rebate on a low-flow toilet.
I’ve been so excited as the summer drew to a close and that river segment continued to have water. It’s the most amazing success story I’ve been involved in. I have year after year of dead fish pictures, so to be able to take pictures of water in this year of serious drought has been remarkable.
Reading learned about water conservation while pumping the Ipswich dry. In that case however, conservation wasn’t enough to save the river. The collage below shows a graph of rainfall amounts (from Boston) over the summer drought of 2002 (in photo on left) compared to this year (photo on right). We can see that rainfall monthly totals during this summer have been much lower than they were in 2002, but the river continues to have water quite a ways downstream.
While conditions are severe elsewhere in the Ipswich River and some of its tributaries, with dry riverbed conditions downstream of the Reading Town Forest, Reading has reason to celebrate – its section of the Ipswich River has “Got Water!” And while water conservation continues in this year of severe drought, here’s one success story we can celebrate.
About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee. She lives in Reading, Mass