Outdoor water ban begins Friday in Ayer

Board of Selectmen declare State of Water Supply Conservation


AYER – Despite coronavirus being the issue on everybody’s mind, local officials have not forgotten about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

As a means to further prevent the chemical compounds from being consumed by the public, the town will institute an outdoor water use ban starting Friday, May 15. The ban will reduce the town’s demand for public water and minimize the use of water wells that had traces of the chemical compounds detected within the last four years.

During the day of the ban, residents are not allowed to use public water outdoors between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This includes no watering with sprinklers or irrigation systems, though those with new lawns or special circumstances can use those methods of watering with the permission of the Department of Public Works.

Those who violate the ban will receive a written warning on the first offense, a $50 fine on the second offense, a $200 fine on the third offense and a $300 fine along with reduction in water availability on the fourth offense.

Mark Wetzel, DPW superintendent, said the ban came from a vote the Board of Selectmen made on May 5. This is the second summer in a row the board made this vote at Wetzel’s recommendation.

“In response to a directive by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, we have restricted the flow from certain wells to keep the PFAS levels as low as possible,” Wetzel said in an email. “During summer months, when the outdoor water ban is not in effect, we need to supply an additional one million gallons of water per day. We typically pump about 1.4 million gallons of water per day. To meet the ‘lawn watering’ demand, we need to pump all of our wells at higher flow rates.”

Of the five water wells the town has access to for a public water supply, wells located at Grove Pond and Spectacle Pond were found to have the highest traces of PFAS last year.

A potential cause of the PFAS contamination was discovered by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit The Environmental Working Group, which claimed in December that fire-fighting foam used at the former Fort Devens contained the chemical compounds.

After officials performed temporary treatment at two wells near Grove Pond last year, the town authorized the construction of two water treatment plants near the Grove Pond and Spectacle Pond wells. Wetzel said the Grove Pond plant, being paid for by the U.S. Army, is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by late August. As for the Spectacle Pond plant, which is being paid for by the town, Wetzel said the plant’s design plans are coming next week. He hopes the plant will be built by next summer.

As for the water ban, Wetzel said it may be reduced once the Grove Pond treatment plant is completed.

“As a public water supplier, the town’s primary responsibility is to provide safe and reliable drinking water and water for fire fighting, if required,” he added. “Outdoor water use restrictions are common throughout the states as required to manage the town’s water resources and water supply.”