The chances are slim that Hamilton will run out of drinking water any time soon. But the town may face some additional state restrictions on its usage in coming years, town officials said last week.
“The town presently has significant withdrawal capacity under our existing permit and continues to take steps to reduce seasonal water use through education, restrictions and capital investment,” wrote John Tomasz, director of the , in a letter to the Planning Board last week.
The issue of Hamilton's water supply came up in the Planning Board's consideration of permitting the Canter Brook Estates senior housing project.
Tomasz and Ray Miyares, special legal counsel for water issues, concluded that there was no concern about adding the townhouses proposed for the property or any other residential construction.
The Planning Board asked for the opinion on the town's water supply after Kerry Mackin, Executive Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, told the board last month that Hamilton was withdrawing more water than it would be allowed in the future.
The Ipswich River Watershed Association is a party to lawsuits challenging Hamilton's permit that allows the town to withdraw about a million gallons a day from its wells.
Over the last three years town residents have used an average of 613,000 gallons per day - slightly more in the summer months. That is well below the amount of water allowed under the permit, Tomasz wrote.
During the summer months, Hamilton is limited to 700,000 gallons per day.
The Ipswich River Watershed Association is challenging the town's permit claiming that the state allowed the town more than it should have because Hamilton, in the past, withdrew more than it needed to sell the extra water to Ipswich.
Now the additional withdrawal of water from the watershed is causing the river to have less water than is needed to protect the plants and wildlife, Mackin said.
The Department of Environmental Protection has been considering the issue for several years. And Miyares said he expects the DEP to rule on what is the “safe yield” for Hamilton in the next year or so.
At that time, DEP may lower the amount Hamilton can withdraw, he said.
Town Manager Michael Lombardo said Hamilton's water system needs work, but is better than many other towns on the North Shore.
He said he and the Board of Selectmen are working on a long-term capital improvement plan to replace some of the aging water pipes in Hamilton. He said he would present a plan to the Selectmen in February to fund the pipe replacement over the next several years.
About a third of the pipes leak water into the ground, Tomasz said. Those leaks result in the town losing about 2 million gallons of water per year, he said.
“Town residents may have a problem once they understand how much deferred maintenance there is to do,” Lombardo said.
To pay for the new pipes, the town may have to raise the water rates. But currently Hamilton's water rates are one of the lowest in the state, Lombardo said.