2019 Election for Acton Water District Commissioner

The Acton Water District (AWD) is an independent government entity, separate from Acton Town government. As such, it is led by a Board of Water Commissioners, analogous to the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Acton; both serve as the legislative bodies for their respective entities. The three Water Commissioners are elected officials, who serve three-year terms of office. In the 2019 election, one candidate will be on the ballot for one available Water Commissioner seat: Barry Rosen.

Although this year’s election is uncontested, it still offers an opportunity for residents to learn more about the priorities and knowledge base of the potential Commissioner. With this in mind, the Green Acton Water Committee posed a set of six questions to the candidate. GA/Water’s questions and Mr. Rosen’s answers are shown below. For comparison, you can see the answers of last year’s candidates to some of the same questions here.

Local election day in Acton is Tuesday, March 26; polls are open from 7am to 8pm. AWD Commissioner candidates appear on the same ballot as the candidates for Town of Acton positions. Anyone eligible to vote in Town of Acton elections can vote for AWD Commissioner; you do not need to be an AWD customer. To find your polling place and see other election information, look here.

Questions from GA/Water to 2019 AWD Commissioner candidate

GA Q#1: Please tell us about yourself and why you are a good choice to be an Acton Water District Commissioner.

Barry Rosen: My background in the biological and life sciences, my career experiences in education, technology, service delivery and team management, as well as my experiences with current technologies and my interest in emerging technologies would serve the Acton Water District well. I have a diverse educational background, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of NY at Plattsburgh and Stony Brook, as well as a NY State Public School Administrator’s license from Hofstra University, and additional post graduate work in business operations management and services management at Harvard Business School and University of Toronto. I taught biology and engineering concepts in the public schools prior to becoming the Assistant Director and Director of a successful, publicly funded, multi-county computer literacy program in New York State. Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, I researched and created computer simulations of real-world life sciences situations, which included ecosystems, ecological pest controls and human enzyme function. I have extensive corporate experience in creating and managing multi-disciplinary teams, and managing services businesses and operations organizations in both geographic and market segments.

I have been the chairperson of the AWD’s Water Land Management Advisory Committee for 14 years. As such, I am familiar with the current, and many of the future, issues with which the AWD will need to deal. As a committee, the WLMAC has studied and made recommendations on such things as whether and/or how to supply water to proposed projects such as the Town of Concord Bus Garage, Avon Apartments and the proposed Powder Mill Place. I am also the current clerk of the Town of Acton’s Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC). This committee has authored and received Town Meeting approval for Bylaws Chapter U and Chapter X, which deal with how we should handle stormwater, issues which are directly related to the recharge of Acton’s wells. While volunteering for the WLMAC and WRAC, I attended a number of seminars and symposia related to water issues and solutions.

I have enjoyed living in our community for many years and participating as a volunteer in areas where I can help by applying my expertise and experience, as well as having the opportunity to learn from the many talented people with whom I have worked. I would like to continue volunteering in our community by serving as a commissioner for the Acton Water District.

GA Q#2: What are the biggest challenges that face the Acton Water District in the next 10–20 years, and what steps should be taken now to prepare for those challenges?

BR: As I look forward, I see a number of potential challenges facing the AWD. It will be important for the District to understand the demand for water in the future. To accomplish this, the AWD must work closely with the Town of Acton on a common vision for water needs. Using population projections is a start, but those alone do not take into consideration all of the forces that are in play. I believe a closer linkage with the Town at different department and committee levels would be helpful. Understanding the thinking of town groups such as the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Board of Health, Open Space Committee and other committees would be valuable. I would like to see the AWD adopt a more proactive stance and spend less time in the reactive mode through the development of a strategic long-term plan based on a mission statement, strategies and tactics to accomplish the mission, and measurements by which we can evaluate the results.

Climate change is and will be an issue for the foreseeable future. It has implications on the amount of recharge that will be available to our wells, the amount of growing season that will require irrigation, and perhaps (although no good forecasts are currently available) the number of drought periods that will confront us. The AWD will need to examine the amount of water that they  will likely be able to deliver from the wells and assess whether they will find it necessary to petition the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for increased daily withdrawal amounts. The District should also examine additional sources of water both within and outside Acton’s boundaries. While there are potential well sites within the Town, it is unclear if any of these sites can be successfully developed since these sites are no longer isolated parcels.

GA Q#3: Please discuss the pros and cons of having a Water District independent of town government, versus having a Water Department that is part of town government. For towns like Acton that have water districts separate from town government, how can the town and water district best work together?

BR: Today, the AWD is a separate entity from the Town of Acton. Keeping the AWD as a separate, independent organization has its benefits. As its own entity, the AWD has a simple and clear charter to fulfill in obtaining and supplying quality water to its water takers in Acton and a small area of Boxborough. The AWD is also responsible for creating and maintaining the appropriate infrastructure to supply and deliver the water to the community it serves. As an independent entity, the AWD can focus on making the best decisions to accomplish its mission. While remaining an independent water supplier, the District should work more closely with the Town to ensure a better understanding of both entities’ plans.

If the AWD were part of the Town of Acton, one could see potential expense reductions in areas such as shared systems (IT), labor and support functions. Being part of the same organization, even within a separate division, could be beneficial to both the town and the AWD by enabling joint future planning of infrastructure and budgeting. It is likely that if the District were part of the Town, there would be synergy with planning, construction, and plan execution. The Town and the AWD would jointly develop goals and congruent positions on issues involving water.

GA Q#4: A probable human carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane, is entering Acton’s wells from the the NMI and WR Grace Superfund Sites. What actions do you think the AWD should take in response? Consider possible actions on a 1–10 year time scale, and please explain your answer.

BR: 1,4-dioxane is a relatively newly recognized water contaminant. It is found in many products we consume, including shampoos, cosmetics and deodorants. It is also found in some adhesives, food supplements and some crops treated with pesticides containing dioxane. Both the AWD and the EPA are monitoring the plumes affecting the Assabet wellfields.

Two interim solutions are currently in place — one from the AWD; the other from the EPA contractor. The AWD should continue to aggressively monitor the level of 1,4-dioxane reaching the water treatment plant, as well as the contaminant plume size, and its concentration in cooperation with the EPA. The best available technology that has proven to work for our specific water treatment plant in removing the dioxane should be installed, and the District should seek reparation from the appropriate group(s). I expect the AWD to continue the practice of diluting the treated water to reduce the dioxane levels to well below the 0.3 ppb level.

Treatment of water containing 1,4-dioxane has been done commercially, but treatment is fairly new to municipal water suppliers. One can expect that the treatment technologies will likely evolve rapidly. The AWD should stay abreast of these new innovations going forward, always looking for solutions that will prove more efficient and better serve its customers. Of course, the District will have to keep the cost/benefit analysis in mind while it is examining its future options.

Finally, the least desirable option, but one that must be considered, is the temporary or permanent shutdown of a well. It appears that the concentration of contaminant reaching the water treatment plant is remaining below the DEP guideline and with the AWD’s dilution solution, the treated water’s contaminant level is much lower. As we know, things can change in concentration or in the research findings about the contaminant. Therefore, a well shutdown may have to be considered at some time in the future.

GA Q#5: Discuss the pros and cons of continuing to get all of our water from groundwater within the boundaries of Acton versus other potential sources. 

BR: Please see below (#6)

GA Q#6: The MAGIC climate resilience report predicts that under the influence of global climate change our area will experience more precipitation, but concentrated into more severe storms and with an increased ratio of rain to snow. In addition, we are likely to experience more frequent droughts and less groundwater recharge. What actions should the AWD take to prepare for this future?

BR: Questions 5 & 6 are so closely related that I would like to answer them together as the strategy for dealing with them may be similar.

Because groundwater provides all of Acton’s water needs today, the AWD should continue to encourage its customers to utilize water conserving measures. Businesses, schools and residences should continue to be educated and, where possible, offered incentives to utilize water saving devices. Many of these can reduce energy consumption which should also be encouraged.

Acton currently draws all of its water from a series of 22 wells. Groundwater is generally considered a reliable source of water once a good source had been identified and established. As with any water source, a well’s output can require various types of treatment, depending upon such things as its pH, dissolved mineral content and microorganism levels, but generally the treatment required is less than that of surface water. Over time, other undesirable content may present in the well water which could require additional treatment to remove. It is also common for a well’s output to decline over time as minerals begin to clog the “straw,” and the well may need to be re-drilled at some point. There are also constraints on where a well may be drilled, and there are rules on how a well site must be protected, which limit the number of additional viable well sites within Acton. The actual drilling procedure and performing the DEP testing required to obtain a well permit is also an expensive process. There is no guarantee that once a well has been drilled that it will be able to produce the amount of water expected or the DEP issued permit will allow the AWD to pump the desired amount of water from the well.

While groundwater has been a reliable source of water, it’s unclear if it will be as productive and reliable in the future. There are predicted changes in the number of storms and storm severity due to climate change. Even though it is predicted that there will be increased rainfall in our area, the amount of rain in each event may fall so rapidly and/or with such longer duration that much of the water will be runoff to surface water, so most of it will not have an opportunity to percolate into the groundwater. The groundwater supply level may decrease during the summer months when the chances of a drought condition also increase.

With the forecasted changes in climate, the AWD should consider additional sources of water supply outside the boundaries of Acton. A strategy of partnering with other municipalities to locate and obtain new water sources, perhaps on a regional scale, should be investigated.

The use of surface water should also be examined. Nearly 80% of U.S. water usage is supplied by surface water. A surface water supply could be a replacement for some groundwater and/or a supplement to our groundwater sources. While the future use of Nagog Pond is murky, Acton should maintain its right to utilize Nagog Pond waters and hold this water source in reserve. Connecting to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) could also be a strategy. This supplier can deliver very high quality, treated water to a water supplier such as the AWD. MWRA currently serves 51 communities near Boston and in Metrowest. Since the connection point would likely be the MWRA treatment plant in Marlborough, this strategy would present an opportunity to partner with additional municipalities to share the infrastructure cost necessary to connect.

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