Area water supply dwindles as drought continues

Drought continues to threaten the water supply of New Haven and outlying communities, causing the Regional Water Authority to request that consumers voluntarily cut their water consumption by 10 percent.

According to the authority, the region’s 18.6 billion gallon capacity reservoirs, which usually at this time of year are 77 percent full, have dwindled to only 53 percent full. These low levels have triggered stage two of its “Drought Response Plan.” If water levels continue to drop, the plan calls for “progressively tougher mandatory water restrictions.”

Authority spokeswoman Gale Cuomo said a reservoir measurement in March will determine whether further measures will need to be taken.

The authority, a regional organization that supplies water to over 400,000 residents in south central Connecticut, suggests that numerous things can be done to conserve water. The group advises people not to leave water running while brushing their teeth or shaving, to avoid long showers, and to report leaky faucets for repair. Though these measures are especially important in times of drought, the authority encourages residents to follow them at all times.

But the effect these voluntary measures will have, especially at Yale, is unclear. Yale Recycling Coordinator Cyril May said that the economic cost of commodities usually encourages people to conserve and save money, but that Yale students are under no such pressure.

“For both students and many departments, water is free. The utilities department pays,” May said. “What incentive does a person have to take a shorter shower? None.”

Experts said it is unlikely that water levels will return to normal soon.

“To recharge ground water we would have to get some serious rain — [we need] 10 inches and hopefully not all at once,” professor Thomas Siccama of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies wrote in an e-mail.

Jean Shockley FOR ’03 added that local agriculture could suffer if drought conditions continue.

“If we continue to have little rain and a hot summer, farmers are going to be hit badly with water restrictions,” Shockley said.

To combat drought conditions and ensure a reliable supply of water, the authority is working to bring the Lake Whitney Reservoir back into commission with a new water treatment facility that will replace the old, slow sand filter plant. Groundbreaking for the plant is set to take place on March 21.

In November 1999, the city of New Haven and town of Hamden brought a lawsuit against the authority to force it to carry out plans addressing environmental concerns. The suit was withdrawn after the authority committed to additional scientific studies and greater civilian involvement, including public meetings.

In addition, other potential technologies are being developed and implemented. One of the technologies at the forefront is Aquifer Storage Recovery, the storage of water in man-made wells for use in times of water shortage. Proponents of this technology claim that when compared to the cost of setting up surface reservoirs and treatment facilities, potential cost savings can exceed 90 percent. Similar systems have been in use for years, especially in places like Florida, California and Nevada.

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