Trying to avoid water restrictions akin to last summer’s automatic sprinkler ban, the Falmouth Department of Public Works is proposing to limit residents to using sprinklers a few days a week.
If supported by the select board, the plan would allow homeowners and landscapers to water their lawns on a schedule based based on their house numbers. It would be in effect year-round.
Under the proposal, odd-numbered homes would be permitted to use automatic sprinklers on their property on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and even-numbered homes would be permitted to use sprinklers on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Watering would only be allowed between 8 PM and 8 AM each day and no one would be allowed to use sprinklers on Mondays, Falmouth Water Superintendent Cathal O’Brien said.
Washing sidewalks, patios and driveways would also be prohibited, except by businesses that need to do so for health and safety reasons.
Mr. O’Brien presented the plan to the select board on Monday, April 5. The board is scheduled to vote on it at its next meeting on April 26.
Last year, the town implemented a ban on all automatic sprinklers at the end of July to keep steady water pressure at a time when water usage is doubled or even tripled due to use by summer tourists and second homeowners. There were also drought conditions, leading to the first water ban in Falmouth since the 1950s.
Many landscapers were upset at the lack of warning about the ban, as their business depends on manicured lawns.
“We’re trying to avoid that situation,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We’re trying to be proactive in reducing water consumption in order to avoid an all-out ban. If we can get people to comply, lawns will be healthier, they will maintain their green color and add value to their properties.”
The shortage of available water this spring is a confluence of circumstances. Mr. O’Brien said the Fresh Pond well is still out of service, but he is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to get it back online. The well was closed in 2017 after perchlorate levels in the contribution area were found to have exceeded allowed amounts. Usually Falmouth can tap into the Upper Cape Regional Water Supply via a water tank at Joint Base Cape Cod, but it is being repainted and is not in service for at least two months, Mr. Cathal said. Lastly, a shortage of snowfall this winter and rainfall this spring has left the town’s main water reservoir, Long Pond, lowering than in past years.
“It’s down by feet,” said department of public works Director Peter M. McConarty, who is keeping a close eye on the water level there. “I can see beach that I have not seen in years.”
The department wants to avoid daily precipitous drops in water pressure that occurs when sprinklers in town automatically begin spraying water around the same time.
“All the valves open causing immediate demand, especially between 5 and 11 AM,” he said. “You go to higher elevation housing developments like Telegraph Hill and they have really low pressure. We have one of the best water plants in the state, but it was designed for steady flow throughout the day.”
Before approaching the select board, Mr. O’Brien sought feedback from water users, in particular landscape companies.
“They are hoping we would phase in the approach of a water ban. I talked to internal staff, homeowners and landscape customers to figure out how to avoid restricting sprinklers altogether. Now the hope is we get some rain,” he said.
Board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga praised the water superintendent for reaching out to water users.
“I appreciate that you did outreach to stakeholders in advance. I think it’s key to get compliance and draft good policy,” Ms. English Braga said.
The select board appeared to support the idea, but could not take action since a vote was not on the agenda.
“I am behind a year-round water ban, instead of putting it in place, removing it and the back and forth. It just makes sense if we can get our landscapers to uniformly program the sprinklers,” select board member Samuel H. Patterson said.
“We are likely to see more strain on our water supply as more people come here on Cape Cod for the foreseeable future. Quite a few people decided this is a great place to live as a result of COVID-19, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon,” he said.
If the board votes in favor on April 26, the reduction plan would take effect immediately.