Natick has benefited from relying on its own water sources for years, but with coming regulations from the state and feds regarding contaminants, the town is now looking for some outside help to supplement its 11 groundwater wells and 4 treatment plants. That support would come in the form of sourcing at least a quarter of its water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) if Fall Annual Town Meeting approves Natick joining the MWRA.
Bill Spratt, executive director of the Natick Department of Public Works and Facilities, shared short-, medium-, and long-term plans with the Select Board on Wednesday, July 26 (see recording, starting about 30 minutes in). The most immediate planning stemmed from Natick’s non-compliance notice from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection a couple of years back due to higher-than-allowed levels of PFAS, dubbed “forever chemicals,” found in the water supply. Natick, which is required to test monthly for PFAS, is far from alone in having to address contamination from these chemicals.
The bottom line, Spratt said, is that his team advocates bolstering Natick’s homegrown water supply (it pumps about 3.3 million gallons a day) by filtering out PFAS while supplementing that supply with water from the MWRA, a wholesale supplier to communities within the state. In other words, “a hybrid solution,” he said.
“We’re at a point where decisions need to be made,” said Spratt, noting that meeting emerging regulations takes time to fund and plan. Natick takes these steps in an uncertain environment, where PFAS rules are only going to get tighter, though it’s unclear exactly what standards Natick and other communities will need to meet with their drinking water. All of Natick’s water sources are contaminated with PFAS, and its Morses Pond treatment plant is offline because PFAS levels in the water there are so high (it would take lots of money to get this water source back in action). Only Natick’s Springvale water treatment center has PFAS filtering in place.
Sourcing water from the MWRA, among other things, will lessen Natick’s reliance on water from the plant at Elm Bank, which has use restrictions placed on it based on water flow in the Charles River. Natick’s good during endlessly rainy times like now, but loses access when drought conditions exist, like last summer, and summer is the time when Natick sees peak demand for water. “It’s a very unpredictable water source,” said Spratt, whose team is proposing a plan that would remove Natick’s reliance on Elm Bank water completely.
Natick doesn’t want to get into the position of restricting water use, since the town’s Water & Sewer Department sustains itself by supplying and charging for water and other services.
The timing is good now to apply for entrance into the MWRA network because the organization is waiving entrance fees that can add up to $12M-$15M. It has capacity—about 50 million gallons a day—and it’s looking for new members in MetroWest and elsewhere, Spratt says. It will still take other steps, including state legislative approval, before Natick could actually join the MWRA a few years down the road.
MWRA water is high quality and plentiful, though it’s also pricey, as Wellesley has seen during the emergence of PFAS testing. Its increased use of MWRA water caused water rates to spike. Though Spratt says the capital investment in its plants and the operational costs for MWRA water would be a wash cost-wise over time, at least vs. the usual Elm Bank portion of water. “All of this is to provide economical water to our rate payers,” he said.
Natick is fortunate that MWRA pipelines already exist along Rte. 30 in town, making at least one connection relatively easy (multiple connections would be sought for redundancy purposes).
Even with a move to the MWRA, Natick will need to continue investing in its water treatment facilities to adhere to new PFAS (and beyond) standards expected to roll out over the next few years. The town is working on a study to pilot various treatment options, so it’s possible that Natick won’t go with the same granular activated carbon approach it has used initially at part of the Springvale plant.
The Select Board gave its support to sponsor an article at Annual Fall Town Meeting to begin the process of Natick joining the MWRA.
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