By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The town has asked the state Department of Environmental Services to lift a 17-year-old order that regulated its use of Canobie Lake as a drinking water source.
Selectmen voted unanimously earlier this week to notify the state it believes the order is no longer needed because of improvements made to the town’s water system that alleviate concerns about Canobie’s water levels.
Engineering consultant Christopher Silke of Wright-Pierce of Portsmouth told selectmen significant progress has been made to address problems cited by the state in 1996. The board authorized him to file the request with the DES.
The state’s administrative order required the town to find alternative water sources and implement conservation efforts to make sure Canobie’s water levels didn’t drop too low, posing a threat to water quality and aquatic life. There also were concerns the town wouldn’t have enough drinking water available during a summer drought.
The town draws about 3 million gallons of water a day from Canobie in the summer and roughly 2.2 million gallons daily in the winter, according to public works director Rick Russell. The lake level is 219 feet; it’s not allowed to drop below 210 feet, he said.
The town resorted to various measures over the year to resolve its water problems, including using Arlington Pond as an additional water source. The town is required to file monthly progress reports with the DES.
“The town has been doing that and are in compliance,” Silke said.
He said new water connections were not allowed over the years if the water level dropped below 217 feet.
Recent efforts have included conducting a water system audit, replacing aging and leaking water pipes, and installing new water meters at homes and businesses throughout town.
Repairing the leaks has helped the town recover 85 million to 100 million gallons of water a year, saving about $30,000 annually, Silke said.
The meters — being installed over a five-year period — will save the town an additional $100,000 a year, he said.
These measures will benefit the town and help persuade the DES the administrative order is no longer needed to protect Canobie, he said.
“We feel the town has built a compelling case,” Silke said.
Selectmen were pleased with the progress and optimistic the order would be removed, especially Selectman Michael Lyons.
“I think it’s a momentous occasion that should not be looked as lightly that we are finally going to get this administrative order lifted,” he said.
DES hydrologist Brandon Kernen said yesterday his office was awaiting the formal request from the town. He said Salem has been cooperative over the years and worked diligently to resolve the state’s concerns.