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Epping’s wells tapped out, future sources needed

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

May 09. 2012 11:21PM

EPPING - The town needs to find more sources of municipal water to meet increasing demands from new commercial projects, officials agreed at a joint board meeting this week.

'The town is at a crossroads with its water,' Henry DeBoer, chairman of the water and sewer commission, said at a meeting Monday with other commissioners, selectmen, planning board and budget committee members, and state environmental officials.

The joint meeting was called after voters last year rejected a $2.3 million proposal to buy 60 acres of land with four wells installed behind the Epping Crossing shopping center. Officials have said the wells combined would supply nearly 1,000 gallons a minute.

Commercial development has exploded ever since a Walmart Supercenter opened in Epping Crossing in 2004, but the search for more water began long before the retail giant arrived because the town wanted to attract quality commercial development by offering municipal water and sewer.

DeBoer said the town has 180,000 gallons available per day. In 2011, the town's average usage was about 135,000 gallons a day, with 45,000 gallons left. Of the remaining gallons, DeBoer said 42,000 have been allocated for future use by commercial projects that aren't completed yet, which includes the new Brickyard Square shopping center where a movie theater and other stores are under construction.

'Basically what that means is as developers come to us now, we really have no more water to give, which is obviously going to affect planning down the road,' DeBoer said.

To avoid a water shortage that could halt future development, water and sewer commissioners and other town officials insisted on Monday that the town should continue pursuing the water-rich land owned by developer Susan Conway behind Epping Crossing.

Since voters rejected Conway's offer to purchase the land in 2010 and again in 2011, the town may consider a lease/purchase option proposed for the property.

However, officials agreed that a comprehensive study would need to be done first to test the quality of the water after concerns were raised in the past about contamination from a chemical known as Toluene.

Stephen Roy, a hydrogeologist with the state Department of Environmental Services, said there was nothing 'incredibly negative about the site,' but expressed concern about the possible Toleune issue. He said the site also has a 'higher than the drinking-water standard' for arsenic.

Geosphere Environmental Management Inc. submitted a proposal to perform a $58,000 study of the water quality and other potential impacts related to groundwater withdrawal from the site, but Selectman Karen Falcone insisted that the work should be put out to bid before water and sewer commissioners accept the proposal.

The terms of a lease agreement haven't been negotiated, but DeBoer said a proposal offered by Conway would give the town 120 days to study the water. If any contamination is found or other concerns arise that could be pose problems getting state permits, or if the town decides the project is too expensive, DeBoer said the town can back out of the lease agreement.

DeBoer said the town could choose to do nothing and allow developers to drill their own wells to meet their water needs, but added, 'I don't think that's the type of development that this town really wants to see.'

'What we're looking at is a solution that will be a permanent solution long after we're gone so the town will have a water source that's viable, adequate and meets their needs so that we're not continually in the mode that we seem to have been in. Every five or six years, we need to go look for another well or another site or something like that,' said Joe Foley, a water and sewer commissioner.

Environment Politics Epping