Aug 05

From the Town Administrator's Desk - August 5, 2022

Posted on August 5, 2022 at 9:14 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Drought Persists, Water Ban Enacted
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Yes, it is dry! The State has declared a Level 3 Drought Condition for our region. This is the second highest level, indicating critically dry conditions and means that all non-essential outdoor water use should stop. The Select Board, in their capacity as the Town’s Water Commissioners, voted to declare a state of water conservation due to the persistent drought conditions and has issued a mandatory ban on all non-essential outdoor water use. This ban goes into effect immediately and will remain in place until further notice.

We are significantly behind normal levels of precipitation. All of June and July were extremely dry and there does not seem to be much relief in sight. Rainfall totals are almost 10 inches below normal.  Local streams are very low. Lawns have turned brown, and you can hear the dryness in the woods as you walk over dry vegetation.  Luckily grass can go dormant and will come back when wetter weather returns.

Our drinking water supply depends on both surface water runoff and groundwater recharge. Both sources depend on consistent rain and snowfall. We are seeing diminished capacity in our Lincoln Street Well which typically supplies about 40% of our water needs. Gravely Pond, our other major source of water, is certainly witnessing a draw down though so far not dramatically lower than what we typically see this time of year.  However, with heavy irrigation use and a continued lack of rain the water level can drop quickly.  And if drought conditions persist through the fall, we can run into trouble over the winter if temperatures remain cold and precipitation is locked up as snow.  

To ensure an adequate water supply over the coming months the Select Board voted to impose an outdoor water ban at their meeting on August 1st.  The mandatory ban applies to all non-essential outdoor water use.  Hand-held watering of outdoor plants between the hours of 5PM and 8AM can continue as can the use of drip irrigation for plants,  but the use of sprinklers and lawn irrigation systems are prohibited.  Other examples of prohibited outdoor uses include filling pools, washing down sidewalks or driveways, and washing cars or boats with the hose running.

Violators of the ban may be fined up to $200 per day.  While we will not be sending out an army of water police, violations that are observed/reported will result in tickets being issued. Residents with concerns can contact the DPW.  In the past, compliance with water bans has been high and we certainly hope this will be the case this time around.   We all share a responsibility to do our part to conserve water to ensure we have drinking water for our interior domestic needs.

There are many ways to conserve water inside the home as well.  Measures like only running dish and clothes washers when full, not running the faucet when brushing your teeth and taking shorter showers all help to lower water consumption. Toilets do not need flushing after every use. If not already in place, low flow fixtures should be installed in homes.   

Manchester is fortunate to have a robust water system but as the current drought persists, we are wise to be cautious in our use of water.  Last summer it seemed it could not stop raining. This summer is the opposite. It is highly likely we will experience these types of swings in weather patterns more and more as the impacts of climate change advance. This is one reason why the Water Resources Protection Task Force is hard at work investigating how to make our water system resilient to climate change.  Their recommendations will be coming starting in the Fall. While we hope to have broken the drought by then we know that this won’t be the only dry summer going forward.   

Please help the Town conserve water by doing your part to consume less.     

Jul 29

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 29, 2022

Posted on July 29, 2022 at 8:43 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Bolstering our Public Health Structure
By Gregory T. Federspiel

COVID has many lessons for us.  For the one, the pandemic highlighted the lack of robust resources most communities have in place to deal with wide-spread community health issues. This is true for Manchester.  Our Health Department has operated under a very frugal budget for years and while the structure has served us well, the experiences of the past few years has demonstrated the need for changes.

As part of the FY23 Budget, which began July 1st, the Board of Health (BOH) has been given a green light to recruit a Health Agent to serve as a department leader. Years ago, the Town shared a Health Agent with Essex, and, prior to that, had its own Health Agent. Currently we rely on a part-time administrator, a part-time public health nurse (who put in significantly more hours above their normal routines during the height of the pandemic)  and contract workers for Title V work and other inspectional services.  

As part of the move to provide a more fully staffed Health Department, the BOH and the Select Board agreed that it would be beneficial to clarify the roles of the BOH and the functional relationship of the Health Department within the rest of Town governance and administration. A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was crafted and approved by both boards recently that defines the roles and lays out a collaborative approach to managing the affairs of the Health Department.

Boards of Health have defined statutory responsibilities. For communities that have elected boards and no local charters or special acts that modify the statutory duties, a local Board of Health has a high degree of autonomy. For us, we have an appointed board (chosen by the Select Board) and the Special Act that created the Town Administrator position with general administrative duties for all Town operations.    

The recently approved MOU makes it clear that health directives and policy decisions governing the Health Department rest with the BOH per state law. General administrative oversight lies with the Town Administrator.  The hiring of staff is a collaborative effort.  For the Health Agent/Department Leader, the Select Board must ratify the hiring of the preferred candidate. The MOU does not convey any new autonomy to the BOH.  Rather, it clarifies their role vis a vis state law and the Special Acts that the Town and State have approved.  

A Board of Health may promulgate policies and health regulations that protect the public health. Any proposed policies and regulations must first undergo a public hearing process.  Drafts of the proposals are made available, and the public is afforded an opportunity to comment and provide input to the BOH prior to them taking a vote. The MOU does not change this statutory process.  

Last fall the BOH was given a proposal for new regulations regarding development from the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust for consideration. These proposed regulations would apply to future development with a particular focus on protecting water quality (the new regs would not apply to anything already built or already in the permitting process.)  The BOH has not yet decided if they will advance these regulations either in their original form or possibly in some modified form.  A lot more work, including advice from Town Counsel and an assessment of how these proposed regulations fit within our existing zoning regulations, will be needed.   

Updates on both the hiring of a new Health Agent for the Town as well as progress on any new proposed regulations aimed at protecting our water resources will be provided as appropriate.     

Jul 18

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 18, 2022

Posted on July 18, 2022 at 11:49 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Compost and PFAS
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Recent news of PFAS contamination to drinking wells and gardens from a Westminster composting facility has raised concerns about the plans for an expanded composting facility here in Manchester at the site of our old landfill.  The news from the Westminster facility is certainly a cautionary tale and underscores the importance of moving ahead with our plans carefully and with safeguards in place.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of chemicals that persist in the environment and can be harmful to humans if consumed in sufficient quantities.  The chemicals are used in a wide array of products, including many that are found in most households.  Cosmetics, non-stick cookware, raincoats, and food packaging can all contain PFAS. These “forever” chemicals are widely dispersed throughout the environment due to human activities and unfortunately most people already have PFAS in their body.  Drinking water thresholds for PFAS have only recently been set – to date this is the only arena where regulations exist.

The EPA currently has a health advisory of a concentration no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for   PFAS in drinking water.  Massachusetts has set a threshold of 20 ppt over which treatment to remove PFAS must commence.  1 part per trillion is roughly the equivalent of 1 grain of salt in the water from 20 Olympic size pools.  Testing at such small quantities is not easy.  

Manchester’s water remains below the threshold for treatment.  Gravely Pond has consistently tested below 10 ppt and thus does not require monthly testing at this time.  Water samples from the Lincoln Street well, which provides about 40% of our drinking water, has fluctuated between the mid - to the high teens (14-19 ppt) and requires monthly testing. The most recent monthly tests have been at the lower end of this range.  With this information in hand the Town hired an engineering firm to develop plans for removing PFAS from the Lincoln Street well should our numbers consistently go over 20 ppt.  A new activated carbon filtration system for the Lincoln Street well is estimated to cost about $8 million.  (Residents can also install household filter systems – if you  do make sure the system is design to remove PFAS if that is your objective.

Black Earth Compost, the local company that currently operates the open compost site off Upper School Street, regularly tests for the presence of PFAS in their compost.  Not surprisingly, PFAS are present but at low levels, below the state’s 20 ppt threshold. Black Earth composts food scraps, yard waste (but not grass clippings to avoid lawn chemicals) and chipped wood.  This contrasts with the Westminster facility that takes in large quantities of sewer plant sludge and by-products from paper manufacturing which are both likely sources of PFAS.

The current School Street composting operations are not contained within a structure thus there is the potential for runoff from the site.  The new facility to be constructed this fall at the site of our current transfer station will be self-contained.  Any leachate from the composting process will be collected and either put back to keep the compost at the proper moisture level for maximum decomposition or be hauled away and disposed of elsewhere.  Finished compost will be stored in the open on top of the old landfill.   A heavy rainstorm could cause some leachate to migrate through the grasses and into the old landfill pile.   Total quantities of compost are less than 2% of what is being processes at the Westminster facility.

We currently also monitor PFAS coming from the old landfill.  Some of the monitoring wells report concentrations as high as 228 ppt.   The good news is that there does not appear to be a hydrological connection between the old landfill and Gravely Pond given the very low concentrations seen in the Pond.  Further testing is planned to confirm this. With the help of the Water Resources Task Force further analysis of our drinking supply watersheds will be undertaken.  

PFAS regulations are evolving and will require us to stay abreast of new developments.  The EPA is promulgating new health advisories (not enforceable) for a sub-set of 4 PFAS, 2 at non-detect levels.  And our DPW will continue to monitor PFAS levels in our drinking water and within our watersheds, including the new compost facility.  The new facility should pose less of a threat then the current operations with the new enclosed processing building.  If we need to, we can prohibit outdoor storage of finished compost.  Updates on PFAS as well as the compost facility will be posted on the Town’s web stie.