Water issues top Shrewsbury selectmen’s agenda

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By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer

Shrewsbury – A “Public Works Workshop” was the focus of much of the Jan. 26 Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

Nearly every town maintenance, building, roads, recreation, and water/sewer issue on the books was discussed.

The columbarium at the town’s Mountain View Cemetery has been designed and will go out to bidding this spring as was previously approved at Town Meeting. It will be free-standing and have 80 niches for urns. The high school tennis and basketball courts will be repaired and bids for that are already out; crack repairs and painting are to be done in the May-July time period. Other work on town schools – some built as long ago as 1923 – are ongoing and such materials as horse-hair plaster are in dire need of replacement. The ventilation and air conditioning in some buildings goes back to the 1960s and some schools have electric heat, a good decision when they were first built but now a very expensive proposition.

The bridge deterioration on Toblin Hill is being addressed with a repair this spring which should last 10 years before new construction is considered. Town dams are being inspected. The town is more aware of the need for metal trash collecting and recycling.

The Town Master Plan is in the works, with the final draft due in February. Also in the works is a proposal regarding use of the former Grafton State Hospital.

The main attraction of the presentation, however, was from the Water and Sewer Department, whose issues the selectmen identified as the single biggest priority for the town regarding serving existing residents and businesses and planning for new ones.

“Everything the town does is dependent upon what it does with water and sewer,” said Town Manager Daniel Morgado.

He offered as an example the current situation in Flint, Mich., where tap water has become so polluted that it cannot be drunk or used for cooking. Regarding Massachusetts towns and cities, there may be some additional copper and aluminum limits on drinking water, for which the Infiltration/Inflow Program is key – something the town has addressed in the past five to six years, he said. Shrewsbury pays for this service dependent upon what the town’s wastewater contains as it arrives at the Westborough treatment plant, and that changes with different weather conditions.

The town has 34 sewage-pumping stations that are inspected on a rotating basis of about six per year, or, about six pumps every six years. Town water mains can last as long as 100 years but are, once again, susceptible to degradation and contamination of fresh water pumped. Normal life is in the 50-75 year range. Consumer water conservation has been a success, with water saving devices being given to consumers on a continuing basis. Education about conservation and efficiency starts early with school children.

Planning for the future, an Alternate Water Supply study has been done over the past two years. The goal is planning through 2036 regarding water needs and sewer capacity. The study presented seven alternatives (eight if “do nothing” is a consideration). Morgado recommended that the best choice would be a water treatment plant upgrade with an agreement with Worcester for more water, under which Shrewsbury would, as needed, draw-down from Worcester additional water when Shrewsbury bumps-up against the regulatory limit established by the state. He recommended that the town negotiate this now before a crunch comes. Funding for such a project has to be asked of the state by Oct. 15.