SALEM — The state Department of Environmental Services has lifted a 17-year-old order that regulated the town’s use of Canobie Lake as a drinking water source.
Town Manager Keith Hickey announced to selectmen at their meeting Monday that the state is satisfied with the town’s compliance with the order, which required Salem to improve its water system and rely less on the lake for drinking water.
“I think it’s very significant,” Hickey said yesterday. “The town has been working with state town for the better part of 17 years.”
But the DES said more needs to be done to increase the town’s supply, including possibly purchasing water from Methuen or other communities.
The town was ordered to find alternative water sources and implement conservation efforts in February 1996, 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 would not have enough drinking water available during a summer drought.
The town was notified last week by Sarah Pillsbury, administrator of the state’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau. No one from the DES was available for comment yesterday.
“The department concurs that Salem has completed the items required by the order,” Pillsbury said in her letter to the town. “A notice of compliance will be issued.”
But Pillsbury said the town must continue to make improvements to ensure water levels do not decrease significantly. The lake is the town’s only water supply during the summer, Hickey said.
“The department continues to have significant concerns about the adequacy of Salem’s drinking water supply and the potential for excessively drawing down the Canobie Lake during a drought, which may violate state surface water quality standards,” Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury recommends increasing the capacity of the town’s water treatment plan and also purchasing water from another community to place less of a strain on Salem’s system.
Part of complying with the state’s order included using Arlington Pond as a water source as well, Hickey said. The town has had to file monthly progress reports with the DES.
The town draws about 3 million gallons of water a day from Canobie in the summer — a peak time for usage, according to public works director Rick Russell. The lake level is not allowed to drop below 210 feet, he said.
The state lifted the order after the town and its engineering consultant Christopher Silke of Wright-Pierce of Portsmouth also convinced the DES that Salem has done enough to conserve water.
Those efforts include conducting a water system audit, replacing aging and leaking water pipes, and installing new water meters at homes and businesses throughout town.
Special equipment was used to find some of the water leaks, according to Russell.
“The loss of water at one point a few years ago was 20 percent,” he told selectmen. “It’s dropped now to 16 percent.”
The national average for municipal water systems is 15 percent, he said.
Repairing the leaks has helped the town recover 85 million to 100 million gallons of water a year, saving about $30,000 annually, according to Silke.
The meters, which are being installed over a five-year period, will save the town an additional $100,000 a year, he said.