Water conservation: Reservoirs are full now, but summer can be dry

Although reservoirs are currently full, six Fairfield county towns — not including Ridgefield, at least for now — are subject to outdoor use water restrictions from Aquarion Water Company, with Westport and Newtown added this spring to a previous list of four towns where lawn watering was allowed just two days a week, and only at night or in the early morning hours.

“Currently there are no restrictions on any Ridgefield users. But we are encouraging all of our customers to start adapting,” said Aquarion spokesman Peter Fazekas.

Homes in Ridgefield and several other Fairfield County towns served by Aquarion are supplied by a system that draws water from a series of eight reservoirs, and also wells.

“The system is full, which is normal for this time of year. It will draw down over the summer months,” Fazekas said. “Over the last several summers, rainfall has been well below normal during the summer months and reduced the amount of water available in these reservoirs.”

Aquarion customers in New Canaan, Stamford, Darien and Greenwich have been limited to a schedule of twice weekly limits on outdoor water use since April of 2017, when the company adopted its own water use rules after the state Department of Public Health lifted emergency water restrictions that it had kept in place since the drought of 2016. And this spring Aquarion added Westport and Newtown.

Ridgefield, too, will eventually have water use restrictions, according to Fazekas, who said towns are being added to the list in a measured way because the program includes active enforcement efforts that require company resources.

“We will be adding towns each year,” he said.

The program for the six towns on water restrictions involves even numbered homes being allocated two days a week when they’re allowed to water lawns, and odd-numbered houses being assigned two other days when watering is permitted.

“We will be adding towns each year to those restrictions  — that’s in coordination with the town and in coordination with Department of Public Health and our regulator PURA (Public Utility Regulatory Authority),” Fazekas said.

The restrictions on “outdoor water use” are focused on sprinkler systems — not car washing, or someone standing in the yard spraying with a hose, according to Fazekas.

“The restrictions only apply to irrigation systems and hose-end sprinklers,” he said.

“Customers can use drip irrigation, they can use soaker hoses any time they like. If you have a hand-held sprayer, you can use that any time you like it.”

Aquarion also offers customers in the six towns with water use limits “high-efficiency variances” to their sprinkling rules. People can be exempted if they have an irrigation system with an EPA-approved “water sense” controller that is connected to “real time weather” information and adjusts sprinkling schedules. Such a system “knows it’s going to rain in two days” it’s not going to water the lawn, Fazekas said.

Property owners can qualify for the variances if the have a sophisticated system like that, and reduce their water use by 20%.

“We would conduct an audit of that system before we grant the variance,” Fazekas said.

“It’s very high tech. This is new this year, the variance offering. The whole point of this is we want customers to irrigate efficiently, and not waste water.”

Long term

While last year had more rain than the drought year, 2016, water remains a long term concern.

“Our demand for potable water continues to increase, most notably during the summer months due to the number of irrigation systems that have been installed, especially down county,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Aquarion’s reservoirs are mostly full — but it’s spring and that’s expected.

“They were full the year of the drought, at this time of year,” Fazekas said. “It’s the summer months that draw down the reservoirs, especially when it’s combined with no rainfall, or low rainfall.

“So, the restrictions are to keep the reservoirs as high as possible during those summer months, so there’s adequate water for human consumption and fire protection,” he said.

And while lawn irrigation systems may be more common in Stamford and Greenwich, Aquarion’s tracking of seasonal changes in water use show that lawn watering is a problem here, too.

“If I’m looking at single family homes in Ridgefield, the top 10% of our customers in that category are using 37% of their water on outdoor water use,” Fazekas said.

“They’re using 218 gallons per person per day, which is high in comparison to the national average of 88 gallons per day,” he said.

“A lot of that irrigation water is wasted,” Fazekas added.

“You’ll see sprinkler systems on the day before it pours. Also the fact they’re watering in the middle of the day — which does not make sense because 50% of that water evaporates.”

In the six towns where Aquarion has water restrictions in place, there are watering hours in addition to the two-days a week schedule. Water is permitted from midnight to 6 a.m., or from 6 p.m. to midnight — never in the sunny middle of the day.

“You need to water later afternoon into evening, and early morning,” Fazekas said.

“We’re encouraging all of our customers to use this schedule. Obviously it’s only mandatory in the six towns.”

Announcing water use restrictions in Newtown this spring, Aquarion said: “The EPA and other experts identify the overuse of outdoor irrigation as a major source of strain on local water supplies, while providing no benefit to lawns and gardens. Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford put twice-weekly irrigation limits in place last spring and saved 860 million gallons of water.”

Ridgefield systems

Most of Aquarion’s 3,300 water customers in town are on the main Ridgefield system — serving the village and central Ridgefield.

The Ridgefield main system is hooked into Aquarion’s southwest regional pipeline, which draws from a system of three linked reservoirs, the Hemlocks Reservoir in Fairfield, Aspetuck Reservoir in Easton and Saugatuck Reservoice in Weston and Redding. The main Ridgefield system also draws from the Canal Street and Coleytown wells in Westport.

That’s part of the “Greater Bridgeport system,” which has five other reservoirs — Easton Lake in Easton, Trap Falls, Far Mill and Means Brook, all in Shelton. The system has a storage capacity of close to 19.5 billion gallons of water. It once served the high water demand of Bridgeport’s heyday as a manufacturing center.

This Bridgeport system today shares water with down-county towns through the Southwest Regional pipeline — and water is being pumped regularly into the Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford distribution systems.

The Ridgefield main water system also draws water from local wells: the Oscaleta, North Street and Beechwood well fields in Ridgefield — sources acquired decades back as part of the former Ridgefield Water Supply Company.

Over the years Aquarion has also acquired several smaller neighborhood water systems in Ridgefield, The systems, often put in by housing developers, include the Ridgefield Knolls, Craigmoor, Scodon and Turner Hill neighborhoods.

According to Fazekas: the Ridgefield Knolls water system has six wells, known as the Topstone wells. The Scodon system is served by four wells in Miry Brook aquifer. The Craigmoor has a well from the Titicus River aquifer. And Turner Hill, in northernmost Ridgefield, gets its water from the City of Danbury’s municipal water system.