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Cumberland seeking to strike gushers... to boost water supply

October 16, 2013

CUMBERLAND – A town consulting firm was getting good initial results Tuesday while conducting water well testing at the Schofield Farm property as part of its search for a potential future town well field.

Of course, the town is also looking at several other town sites as potential public water supplies, and town Water Superintendent Chris Champi said the review is only the start of a process that could take up to three years before a new well supply is connected to the town’s water system.

The goal of the water search is to find local sources of well water that could help the town reduce its reliance on higher cost purchased water from nearby communities or the treated supplies from the Sneech Pond reservoir.

“Obviously we’d like to find enough additional sources that we would be able to supply our own peak needs with in-town sources,” Champi said of the town’s current round of water prospecting.

In addition to the test wells already installed at Schofield Farm by the consulting firm, Layne Christensen Co. of Dracut, Mass., the town’s water search will include the Franklin Farm property off Abbott Run Valley Road, a town property off Staples Road, the wooded Long Brook property off Little Pond County Road, and the Blackall property off West Wrentham Road near Highland Corporate Park, Champi said.

At the Schofield Farm on Tuesday, Layne hydrologist Cary Parsons was founded running a flow test with Champi from an 8-inch test well drilled at the eastern side of the parcel.

The company had already drilled several 2.5-inch test wells and another 8-inch well at the property and was evaluating the overall supply of the groundwater aquifer with the approximate four-hour-long flow test.

A 4-inch water line, running approximately 200 feet from the test well, was jetting an approximate 180-gallon-a-minute flow of water onto the field, according to Parsons and Champi.

“It looks pretty good,” Parsons said while observing the water coming from the line was clear and appearing even drinkable with its apparent lack of sediments.

The actual suitability of the groundwater will be determined by extensive water quality testing expected to take two to three weeks to complete, according to Champi.

The company also installed a test well at the Franklin Farm property but found the level of the groundwater there to be lower in the deeper dug well than the well drilled to approximately 70 feet at Schofield Farm.

The complicated assessments of the suitability of the potential sites will also include an evaluation of how the water flow being drawn from one test well also affects the supply of the other test wells on the property, according to Champi.

“This is the best time to do pumping tests, late summer or early fall, because that is when the groundwater levels are at their lowest,” he said. “You want to know that you can pump from a well in the worst-case scenario, not the best-case scenario,” he said.

After completing the testing at Schofield, the Layne crew will be heading next to the Staples Road property to start a new round of testing possibly on Friday, Champi said. When all of the testing is done, the town’s water officials and consultants will begin looking at the data on water quality, the chemistry of the groundwater and its potential compatibility with the town’s existing supplies, and the flows at the various test sites to determine a next step in the review, according to Champi.

Continuing on to seek approval of a site by the both the state Department of Health and state Department of Environmental Management, planning the layout of a well field and constructing it could take over two years or longer, he noted. The proximity of a site to existing town water lines is another factor to be considered in ranking the merits of any of the sites, according to Champi.

The Water Department is also working to improve the output of the town’s existing well fields in Manville and at Abbott Run Valley Road to help lower the cost of supplying water to the town’s 8,026 water customers and also provide alternative sources of water if problems crop up within the existing system.

The town currently purchases water from the Pawtucket Water Supply Board and also taps its own supplies from the Sneech Pond town reservoir off Nate Whipple Highway and its well fields to meet peak summer demands of 5 million gallons per day and 2.5 million gallons per day during off-peak periods such as over the winter.

The town is also working on a system interconnect line with the City of Woonsocket water system at Highland Park that would provide an additional supply option when a water purchase agreement is negotiated with the city.

While obtaining needed supplies at peak times can be a priority, Champi said that the town’s costs for water also affect the rates that are charged its water system users.

The town pays $5 per 1,000 gallons for water coming out of its Sneech Pond treatment system and $4.60 per 1,000 gallons for water purchased from Pawtucket. The water obtained from its well fields requires a lower-cost level of treatment and as a result represents a savings for the system overall, he noted.

“Every 100 gallons per minute of water we obtain from our wells represents a $200,000 annual savings for the water system,” he said.
Whether the town will see that kind of potential savings from the Schofield Farm property site or the other locations under review remains to be seen. Layne’s district manager, Tom Hydro, said Tuesday that the initial work showed some potential for the location but more work still needs to be done to determine if it would be suitable for town wells.

“On a preliminary basis, it looks favorable, but we haven’t done all of the water quality testing yet,” he said. The process of locating a well also requires planning out 400-foot protection zones and determining what arrangement of wells would be the most productive, Hydro said. But a positive flow test is a first step at least, according Hydro. “Essentially, you have to find a supply of water first,” he said.

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