FOXBORO — Selectman Chris Mitchell, a former landscape contractor, this week confessed to using town water to irrigate the recently installed lawn at his Spruce Street home.
But after hearing public works officials detail the dangers posed by the town’s inability to keep up with spiraling demand, Mitchell pledged to quit cold turkey.
“I promise, no more watering,” he said at Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting.
Mitchell’s disclosure followed a sobering report on the current water shortage, which Town Manager William Keegan characterized as a threat to public safety and sanitation.
According to public works Director Christopher Gallagher, a full water ban was implemented on May 27 following a major main break that forced the town to draw down on system reserves.
Gallagher said that remedy worked for the first two weeks, with temporary water connections and stepped-up output helping to back-fill dwindling reserves, particularly the Hill Street storage tank.
Since then, however, with an extended dry spell affecting families tethered to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, water use has soared.
“Over the past two weeks we have seen use spike to over 2.8 million gallons per day,” he said, adding that makes it impossible to keep up with demand, much less replenish reserve capacity.
“If use continues on this path there will be insufficient water and pressure for life-safety purposes,” he said.
Gallagher identified the 3 million-gallon Hill Street tank as critical not only as a buffer against demand during peak hours, but also because it creates pressure throughout the system needed in the event of a firefighting emergency.
“It’s a serious issue right now,” said Gallagher, adding the lack of pressure is “on the cusp” of rendering second-floor bathrooms useless in certain parts of town.
Both Keegan and Gallagher identified residential lawn irrigation as the biggest drain on water resources, particularly during overnight hours. Based on system data, Gallagher speculated that many homeowners have reprogrammed automated sprinkler systems to avoid detection.
“The message is this: don’t water your lawns,” said Keegan, who went so far as to suggest that residents report infractions to town agencies for enforcement.
Gallagher even discouraged the use of hand-held hoses, at least for the time being.
“I totally get it — everybody’s home all day long when it’s 85 degrees,” Gallagher said. “That’s when people get bored and kick the kids outside.”
According to Gallagher, the ban implemented May 27 differs from and is more serious than seasonal restrictions normally imposed during summer months. He said the recent water main break further complicated temporary limits on pumping capacity related to system upgrades already in progress.
Foremost among these upgrades is a project to replace four aging wells on Pumping Station Road which had experienced significant declines in productivity.
The expanded facility at that site which includes a new treatment plant will be capable of pumping 2 million gallons per day when the new wells fully come on line this summer.
All told, Foxboro operates 14 wells in five locations. In addition to the four on Pumping Station Road, there are four on Lamson Road, two at Witch Pond off Cedar Street, three on Sprague Road and one off Route 1.
Gallagher asked homeowners to be patient in upcoming weeks, anticipating the current crisis scenario will not be resolved until late August.
“The thing is, we have plenty of water,” Keegan observed. “We just can’t get it out of the ground.”