Making Water Visible
The Town of North Kingstown is blessed with abundant water resources, both on the surface and underground. The surface water systems, identified as the Hunts River, the Annaquatucket River, and Pettaquamscutt River are intimately connected to the groundwater beneath them and it is from this groundwater, collectively know as the Hunt-Annaquatucket-Pettaquamscutt aquifer, or more simply the HAP, that we draw our drinking water. The HAP, after careful study, has been designated, as a sole source aquifer. This designation indicates that we here in North Kingstown have no other reliable drinking water source available; we must protect the HAP and practice the good stewardship necessary to preserve its pristine water quality. A critical prerequisite for this important stewardship is that we all understand the details of what we have and what we need to do to insure that we have abundant and safe drinking water now and into the future. The "Making Water Visible" webpage, produced by the Water Department Staff and the citizen-based North Kingstown Groundwater Committee, will be a clearinghouse for all information necessary for the citizen's of the community to understand the truth about the HAP; what it is and what we now do, and should do in the future to preserve and protect it.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT:
QUESTION: I am hearing that you are putting our drinking water at risk, is this true?
ANSWER: No. We have also seen these comments printed repeatedly in the media with no supporting science or facts offered to confirm this allegation. Interestingly, there has been no effort by those individuals making these claims to discuss their concerns with the Groundwater Committee nor has there been any formal request to change the regulated uses in the Groundwater Overlay Zoning. The Water Department and Planning Department staffs do agree that the ordinance and the mapping need to be revised to make it easier to interpret and to incorporate the latest science and technology.
QUESTION: What is the difference between GW1 & GW2; what does that mean?
ANSWER: North Kingstown’s Groundwater Overlay Zoning establishes two overlay zones. GW1 includes the Wellhead Protection Areas which are the land areas that are within the zones of contribution or the areas where the groundwater is being pulled toward the pumping wells; in essence, the water that we may drink at some point in time in the future. These are the most critical areas for protecting our drinking water and communities and water suppliers are required to develop programs for source water and wellhead protection. In the North Kingstown Groundwater Overlay Ordinance GW1 also includes the Groundwater Reservoirs which are the areas where the water below the ground is abundant (40 feet of saturated thickness) and the subsurface sand and gravel allows water to move more readily (transmissivity). At the time, these reservoir areas were added to GW1 because the Town desired to protect any areas where new wells might possibly be located, within the last five years however, State regulators have indicated to the Town that the installation of new wells will not be permitted, as they have determined that public water supply wells are causing unacceptable impacts on certain river systems. The wells are intercepting groundwater that would normally have discharged to the rivers and this reduction in the water level in the river is negatively affecting aquatic habitat. The HAP River system has been identified as a watershed where the amount of water being pumped for water supply exceeds what is needed to protect the fish and other species that rely on the amount of water in the river. The regulatory agencies will no longer allow the construction of new water supply wells in these aquifers. Because of this new reality, we have now made the determination that reservoir areas that are not part of a defined Wellhead Protection area are more appropriately protected by a GW2 designation. The GW2 designation includes the Groundwater Recharge Areas as mapped by the US Geological Survey (with slight modifications to be as protective as possible). These are the watershed boundaries of the Hunt, Annaquatucket and Pettaquamscutt (HAP) River basins. What this means is that the elevations of the groundwater table are sloped so that the groundwater moves naturally toward the Wellhead Protection Areas and rivers, and ultimately the Narragansett Bay.
So, to summarize – the effective protection of our drinking water quality involves first, identifying the areas where the subsurface groundwater is being drawn into our wells – or the Wellhead Protection Areas. The second level of protection is identifying those areas where the groundwater moves naturally toward the wells and rivers, which includes the Groundwater Recharge Areas andthe portion of the Groundwater Reservoirs that are beyond or outside of the Wellhead Protection Areas. Revisions to the Groundwater Overlay Ordinance to clarify and reflect these changes will be discussed by the Groundwater Committee in the near future.
QUESTION: Why is the Water Department saying the Tarbox Hyundai site is in a GW2 when the map says it is a GW1?
ANSWER: In 2007 the text of the Groundwater Overlay Zoning Ordinance was amended to change lots located in the 1,750 foot radius of transient non-community public wells that had access to public water supply from GW1 to GW2. At that time the groundwater map was not part of the zoning ordinance. The change was consistent with the recommendations of the RIDEM. The site plan review requirements and other best available control technology requirements that are included in the ordinance and apply to both GW1 and GW2 zones results in no change to the level of protection provided to the wells in the area.
QUESTION: Is this some special deal for this one parcel of land and this one property owner?
ANSWER: No. The zoning amendment applies to any lots that are located within the Wellhead Protection Area of a transient non-community well that would be able to hook up to public water.
QUESTION: Why isn’t there a map that is accurate and up-to-date?
ANSWER: The Water and Planning Departments acknowledgethat is a fair question and something that we need to address. The map has not been modified since 1998 and we agree that the map should be carefully reviewed to ensure that it accurately reflects the overlay zoning language. In the past the Town has not had access to GIS capabilities necessary to create and more importantly, continually update a map such as this. Recently North Kingstown has upgraded its GIS capabilities to an extent that we now can produce and maintain such a map and we will work towards that goal.
QUESTION: Why would the water department want to put the groundwater reservoir at risk?
ANSWER: This answer is easy; we do not wish to put any areas involved in our drinking water at risk. The water department’s job is to provide safe drinking water and state and federal laws require communities and water suppliers to protect their source water which for North Kingstown is our groundwater. As noted above, site plan review requirements and other best available control technology requirements that are included in the ordinance, apply to both GW1 and GW2 zones and the differences in the protection requirements are minimal.
QUESTION: How does this affect Allie’s Donuts anyway?
ANSWER: It really doesn’t, Allies can continue to use their bedrock supply well as they always have. No realistic increase in risk to that water supply well has occurred with the changes. The only practical difference is that now, should the owners of Allies Donuts ever wish to, they do have the ability to connect to a public water supply.
QUESTION: Is our water supply truly stressed?
ANSWER: The truth is that numerous recent changes to the ordinances that govern our water supply have been successful in reducing the stress to our water supply. Changes to the in-ground sprinkler ordinance that moved the town from an odd-even watering strategy to one where it is only permitted twice a week, changes to our rate structure that reward conservation of water, and a public education program has made a difference and we as a community, are using less water during the peak summer period when supply can truly get stressed**. Additionally, changes made recently to the Town’s identified “Water Service Area”, which corresponds to locations where new water mains may be allowed, has been able to help us rein in uncontrolled growth that our water distribution system could not support. This of course is not to say that we should now “rest on our laurels”, the Water Department and the community need to continue our efforts and diligently act as good stewards for this our most critical resource.
**Peak water demand is significantly lower than the 2005 peak but residential water demand still exceeds the 65 gallons per capital per day goal set in the RI Water Use Efficiency Act.