Nantucket Breaks Record For Summer Water Usage

David Creed •

IMG 4654

Nantucket set a record for water usage in July and August this summer with 125 million gallons pumped from the island's aquifer in both July and August respectively, town water director Mark Willett said. It shattered the records set last year in July (118 million gallons) and August (117 million gallons).

“Our aquifer is really strong and I think these past two summers are really great tests for our aquifer,” he said. “They are stressing them big time but we are in great shape here. We plan for it with Andrew (Vorce, Nantucket’s planning director). He and the planning department are really important. They really help us and the information he gives me really helps me set up my capital plan for the next two or three years.”

These record setting water usage numbers for the second consecutive year shouldn’t concern island residents, Willett said. The commonwealth owns the water and ultimately decides how much water Nantucket is allowed to pump. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issues a water withdrawal permit every 20 years, with the last one issued in 2006.

The current permit says the island cannot finish a year with a per day average of 2.06 million gallons of water pumped and the yearly number can’t exceed 750 million gallons.

The island’s daily average in 2021 was 1.85 million gallons per day and the yearly total was 670 million gallons, both under the current permit's limits that Willett expects to go up when the permit is renewed and modified in 2026.

“People shouldn’t be concerned right now about water usage,” he said. “Now I’m not saying because everything is all good right now we can just go nuts but you know, we are in a good spot.”

Nantucket averages approximately four million gallons of water pumped per day in the summer, but that number declines significantly in the offseason and is closer to one million gallons per day in the other eight or nine months.

“It is the wintertime where we really knock our average down,” Willett said. “It evens out and even then, there is leeway with us with that permit. The state understands the Cape and Islands are very seasonal and if I think we are going to approach that daily average or that yearly maximum, as long as I give them a heads up based on this situation or that situation, say this subdivision may happen, or report however many brush fires and express that we might reach those numbers, as long as there is communication with them we are okay. But if I didn’t and we went over that average or yearly withdrawal, there are fees and fines to be paid.”

Willett said the weather is a driving force behind these high numbers over the past two summers. The island experienced its hottest July on record this year and the weather has led to an unusually dry season.

“Last year was actually drier than this summer believe it or not,” he said. “So this year overall we have had more rain than in 2021, but it is still not a lot of rain.”

Willett admitted he wasn’t sure the island would be able to sustain this sort of usage for the next 10 years with the current system, but plans have already been completed, underway, and in place to prepare the town for that scenario if it were to happen.

Over the past eight years, the town has invested in a new water tower and two new wells. A third well is currently in the works off Polpis Road, with drilling beginning this past spring. Workers left the island during the summer because the expense to stay here throughout the season was too much, but will return in a couple of weeks to do a pump test. Following this pump test they will study the information from that test, analyze how it impacts the aquifer and other wells across the island, and then ship the results to the DEP for its stamp of approval to use the well.

“That well on Polpis was originally going to be five years from now but after these past two seasons and what has gone on the past three years, we moved that up and started it last spring,” Willett said. “We as an island are staying ahead of the curve and are prepared for a scenario where things continue this way. I’m also just so confident in my team here and the work that they do to stay on top of things. It is a close group. It’s like the mafia. Once you’re here, you never leave. It’s like a family.”

Willett said they hooked up 150 properties to town water in 2021, but not every property hooking up to town water is a new home. A number of these properties are owned by people who have a desire to get off their own well and get on town water for reasons such as a newly installed water main running down their road that gives them the opportunity to do so. He said another 10 or 12 of those hook ups were fire service connections such as sprinkler systems for commercial buildings. Many of the remaining hook ups are properties they are made aware of ahead of time.

“We hear about different projects that may or may not go on,” Willett said. “So when Andrew (Vorce) and the planning department gets a set of plans to review, they always shoot an email or call me saying ‘hey check this out and just so you know this is coming down the road or this subdivision might happen.’ Then that gives us a chance to be ready for it.”

“A really good example is when we redid Prospect Street and Atlantic and all the streets off of Prospect years ago. We didn’t want to do that but because we knew Sachem’s Path was being built, the new hospital was going to go up and they said they were building an Intermediate School, we knew those water mains weren’t big enough to meet not just the domestic demand but fire demand. So at each hydrant we have to have so many PSI and so many gallons a minute. There are rules and regulations so when NFD goes to hook up to a hydrant there is at least this much. So we had to change the size of the water mains. Another is Old South Road with the Richmond project. We had to redo water mains there to accommodate the demand.”

It has helped put the town in a position to be prepared for the unexpected, Willett said. Take the devastating fire that hit the island this summer on July 9 when the historic Veranda House burnt down after an all-day water fight. On its face that may seem like something that could skew the numbers, but it turns out that fire didn’t impact the town’s water usage much, if at all. Willett said the town used 800,000 gallons of water to put the fire out and about 4.3 million gallons of water that day.

“That wasn’t even our biggest pump day (for July),” Willett said. “We pumped about 4.3 million gallons of water that day but had a day a couple weeks later where it was something like 4.8 million gallons in a day.”

“My capital plan is based off information from planning, lots of surveyors and local contractors and general contractors are great. We are getting a heads up, they are sending me plans, and we can get ahead of it. We have been ready for these kinds of summers.”

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News