STONINGTON — Water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink, shower with or wash dishes.
That’s the situation Stonington officials are trying to avoid.
The town’s municipal water supply is straining to keep up with the water demands of seasonal residents, their houseguests as well as tourists and the businesses catering to them during another summer of drought.
People are making up for vacation time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I never thought we’d have to haul in water to survive,” said Town Manager Kathleen Billings. “It looks like we’re going to have to do it again.”
To that end, Stonington selectmen Monday night unanimously approved spending up to $25,000 to truck in water from the town of Bucksport to fill Stonington’s standpipe.
This will be the second round of deliveries — it takes multiple truck loads to deliver 200,000 gallons of water.
During the latter part of July, the town had 200,000 gallons of water trucked in, with the last delivery on July 30, Billings said.
The water itself isn’t expensive, it’s having it trucked in that adds up, the town manager said, noting that 200,000 gallons of water came to roughly $2,000 but the hauling added $18,000.
Should there be a fire, the Stonington Fire Department has been advised to pull water from a pond or the bay, Billings said. “We probably couldn’t pump enough from the wells, and with hauling water get ahead enough if the fire department took from the standpipe.”
Annaliese Hafford, an engineer with Olver Associates, has been managing the Stonington Water Co. since 2013.
The water deliveries kept the water level in the town’s standpipe from getting precariously low but didn’t result in any stockpiling.
“It was a little disappointing because we were using it as we were pumping it,” Hafford told the selectmen during a water company meeting Monday at the town office.
Selectman Evelyn Duncan said, “There hasn’t been any snow and very little rain in Stonington for the past three years, so all of the wells have been stressed.”
Duncan listed Stonington’s five restaurants downtown as well as an ice cream shop and a coffee shop along with two hotels.
“For a little tiny water company, that’s a lot of business,” she said. Plus, Billings Diesel is on the municipal water service.
Stonington issued a mandatory water conservation notice on June 28 along with a list of conservation practices in hopes of avoiding buying water.
However, people from out of town may not be aware of the water shortage.
“They come from wherever and rented the house,” Duncan said. “They might have had three or four people. Now [post-pandemic] they have eight people. They’re not thinking the water source is never-ending because in most cases they don’t think about it. They just turn on the faucet.”
Town officials are hoping this second order of water will keep Stonington supplied until after Labor Day when, historically, the population drops and thus water use dips a bit.
However, Duncan says short-term rentals are booked through the end of October, as is Boyce’s Motel.
Duncan forecasts a rate increase for water company customers.
“I’m sure we’re going to have a rate increase,” Duncan said. The expense of trucking in water is being funded by the town’s coffers. The water company will have to repay the town over time, according to Billings.
To mitigate events like this in the future, Billings is drafting plans.
“We’ve been saving up to do another standpipe,” she said. “We’ll do concrete and larger than I think we’ll need to cope with increased demand.”
The town manager is also looking for funding for a hydrology study to figure out where more aquifers may be located on town-owned land.
Meanwhile, in Deer Isle, there is a consumer-owned water utility but it’s smaller than Stonington’s — 12 customers, according to board member and Pilgrim’s Inn owner Scott Hall. That water utility is fed by a spring and customers are aware that conservation is needed, Hall said. This utility is in good shape.
“We have gotten rain and I think that has been our saving grace,” he said.
Elsewhere in Maine, drought persists this summer, according to the Maine Drought Task Force. Nearly 68 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, including four counties in severe drought (Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis), according to the task force’s latest report issued Aug. 12
Tips to conserve water:
- Turn off water when not in use.
- Do not leave hoses running.
- Minimize car washing and cleaning of outside buildings or other uses of water, which can wait until the shortage is over.
Report low pressure issues, water on the ground or any other issues to Stonington Water Co. Superintendent Bill Shepard at 367-2351 ext. 15 or Hafford at 223-2232.