By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — For 40 years, the town has wanted a public water system. Yesterday, officials tried a new approach to find a solution.
The town hosted a water symposium yesterday at Town Hall. More than 40 experts, business owners, public officials and residents discussed the current water situation in town and how to find the best way to fix it.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to pull together such a great group of technical resources and professionals to broaden this conversation,” Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said.
Stephen Roy of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Drinking Water & Groundwater Bureau painted a bleak picture of the current state of the water supply in Plaistow.
“Bedrock, which is prevalent throughout town, is the local water supply for the majority of residents,” Roy said. “But it appears to be low-yielding.”
He also said relying on current wells, which provide water for 77 percent of Plaistow residents, is a dicey proposition.
“As wells age, you will encounter a problem,” Roy said. “After many years of use, they significantly decay in yield. There is a mechanical issue when it comes to residents relying on wells.”
While finding a water supply is an issue, the town also has problems with groundwater contaminants. There have been two major sources which have contaminated the town’s aquifer, the Beede Superfund site and the former Lido gas station.
The Beede Group, the companies who were deemed responsible for cleaning up thousands of gallons of contaminants at the site off Main Street, just started removing contaminated soil this year.
The state has spent $2.6 million removing contamination from the former gas station on Plaistow Road.
The town has spent several decades trying to find solutions to the water problem. In 1973, a comprehensive feasibility study was done to look at potential options. At this year’s Town Meeting, a warrant article to fund a $30,000 feasibility study failed by just 12 votes. The study would have looked at a potential conversion of the town’s fire protection system into a potable water system.
But despite that vote failing, several residents came to the meeting because they were concerned about what the future holds.
“I’m concerned about what the impact would be of public water and what the costs and the benefits are,” said Liz Neale, a Plaistow resident and business owner. “I didn’t realize the town water system was in such bad shape. But I didn’t know the specifics about just how long it’s been taking to get cleaned up.”
The town also brought in several people from outside the community to discuss opportunities. Bill Klubben, the planning director in Bow, talked about how his town installed the first new municipal water system in New Hampshire in 50 years.
“This reminds me of where we were,” Klubben said. “Embarking on it is a major task and I just want to talk about it from my experience.”
John Boisvert of Pennichuck Water Works discussed the option of his company providing water to the town.
“It’s probably the source that’s most available to everyone,” Boisvert said. “But when you talk about the dollars that everyone has to spend, rates are going to be very high.”
Cliff Sinnott, the director of the Rockingham Planning Commission, spoke about municipalities partnering together.
“There have been several examples where communities have worked together to share and store water,” he said. “As long as they are satisfied they have the capacity, it can drive the cost down.”
Sinnott said the town could explore partnering with Haverhill.
“It’s across state, lines which could complicate things a little bit,” Sinnott said. “But I think it’s an option.”
Fitzgerald said the next step would be speaking with selectmen and choosing the best options would be.
“There are several grant programs that the town would likely be eligible for to evaluate some feasibility studies for water resource protection,” he said. “These could be very valuable and help assist us.”Experts from around the region descended on Plaistow as they discuss solutions to provide a water supply to the town.