A March 21 letter labels as a “scare tactic” Eastham officials’ expressed concerns that increased future septic use would add to our drinking water quality problem. The writer seems to feel this way because of the small amount of buildable land left in the town and declining school enrollments. What the writer fails to take account of is the greater use of second homes by nonresident baby boomers over time and greater number of people who will retire to Eastham and occupy their Eastham properties full time, not just in parts of the summer. Moreover, many of these properties are grandfathered under Title 5, and so are capable of denser habitation than Title 5 would allow for new construction. Septic usage is proportionate to population, not to the number of dwellings. The writer says she wants to vote “based on fact, not fear.” Facts sometimes are troubling — sugar coating would not serve the citizens well. The plain truth is that the facts known about our degrading water supply should make us afraid for our future and should induce us to take action now to protect our water supply.
For families who have decided to stay and raise their children in Eastham despite the high cost of living, safe drinking water should not be a concern. I have worked hard to make Eastham my home, taking on second jobs when necessary, because this is the place I was destined for. Not for a moment did I consider the issue of safe drinking water. Given the sacrifices we have made to live here, Eastham families should be provided with a great school system, fantastic fire and rescue services, and a solid sense of community. Most important, we should be provided safe drinking water, a basic need for human survival. It’s hard for those of us who have decided to stay and raise our families here. We stay because it is truly home. Let’s make it a safe home for all families. This issue is not going away. If we don’t address it now, not only is it going to cost us more, but we will continue to discourage growing families from making Eastham their home. Town water will benefit us all.
Barbara Stahl, Eastham, April 02, 2013
A March 18 letter accuses Eastham officials of being “deceitful,” setting “artificial standards” for water safety and then telling citizens they have been exceeded. However, the town is not saying that more than 2 parts per million nitrate is itself harmful. What it is saying is that when well water exceeds 2 ppm of nitrates it means discharges from septic systems have infiltrated the water, since the natural level of nitrate in groundwater is no more than 2 ppm. About 45 percent of the wells in Eastham are at this point already, and this number has been growing steadily. When wastewater infiltrates our wells, it brings many contaminants other than nitrate, including unmetabolized pharmaceuticals and hormones, household cleaning chemicals, flame retardants and other chemicals most of us would prefer not to drink. The levels at which these chemicals may be harmful are not currently known. So, what we must all ask ourselves is whether our willingness to risk our health by continuing to drink water infiltrated by chemicals that should not be there is a risk we are willing to take for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. I, for one, am not.
A Poem by Elizabeth Levy, Eastham
If we love this special place
As we say we do,
It shouldn’t just be until
OUR living here is through.
If we have no thought or plan
As the ocean rises,
Our descendants must repeat
The Ancient Mariner’s crisis.
Water, water everywhere
In ocean, pond and sink.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Bob Smith, North Eastham, March 26, 2013
Jack Child’s letter “Water Burden” needs a closer look. He says, “Only 3 residences of the 6,000 in Eastham are affected with a perceived problem.” As of today, here are the facts Jack from Eastham’s Health Agent Jane Crowley! 9 Eastham residences have been provided water by the town because their wells exceed 50% of the current MassDEP standard of 3.0 ppb for 1,4 Dioxane, a suspected carcinogen. The anticipated revised standard for 1,4 Dioxane is expected to be lowered to 0.3 ppb in July. When this standard is lowered the town may be providing even more residences. Now lets get an even clearer picture of Eastham’s water problems. 70% of all single-family residential lots exceed today’s Title V standard. That standard for a lot is 10,000 sq.ft. per bedroom. A 1/4 acre lot today would be allowed only one bedroom. Eastham has been over built! It’s that simple. 43% of our wells tested could be contaminated with wastewater. A Nitrate level in excess of 2 ppm is an indication that wastewater has affected the water quality of a private well. Tom Tcambareri, Water Resources Program Manager for the Cape Cod Commission, states that a Nitrate level of less than 0.5 ppm is considered to be naturally occurring in our aquifer and that septic system effluent leaving the leach field is at 35 ppm. In 2011 the Silent Spring Institute tested private wells on Cape Cod, including Eastham and also found pharmaceuticals, pesticides, hormones and other emerging contaminants. We also must remember that while Eastham’s population is 6,000 and there are 6,000 homes here, the population swells to over 30,000 every July and August. A town wide water system in Eastham is an “Expensive Burden,” but it is a “Responsibility” we must now accept as residents and taxpayers. To be informed attend the selectmen’s water meetings at the Town Hall or on line at Eastham-ma.gov, then click video on demand. Also go to easthamwater.com for another good source of information
Glenn Olson, Eastham, March 26, 2013
There is a lot more going on with our drinking water quality in Eastham than just problems around the landfill, although that is a very real issue for the families living with contaminated water. Throughout Eastham, well water testing has shown increases in nitrate concentrations, and suggests that nitrate readings greater that 2 parts per million indicate well water is being influenced (polluted) by the neighbors, or one’s own septic system. In addition to the nitrate issue is the medications that people take, and the variety of chemicals that are disposed of, that pass through these same septic systems and enter back into your drinking water. Water quality throughout Eastham has degraded over the past 30 years. We need to ask ourselves how much risk we are willing to accept with our drinking water quality, health and safety for our families, the negative financial impact on our biggest investments, our homes. It’s inconceivable that Eastham will never need a public water system, though the cost of a public water system will continue to get more expensive every year we choose not to install one. Get educated; make an informed vote based on facts, and not misguided information.
Sherman C. Reed, Orleans, March 23, 2013
This true story, well known to many in my town, may help my friends in Eastham in their trial. Retiring from the Navy 40 years ago, I and my wife started building our own home on a rural dirt road, following all town rules. Electricity and phone were our only utilities. Orleans had just started installing town water. Accepting no toilet flushing during power outages, we fought town water hard for reasons now stated within Eastham. My wife became ill. Symptoms pointed to our well as the culprit. Many months and tests later, Leahy Clinic determined colon cancer. It was too late, although we received the best of care and fought hard. Many years later, with town water, my second wife developed essentially the same symptoms. Quickly, we caught a softball-size cancer just in time. We will soon enjoy our 33rd wedding anniversary, six years cancer-free. No, our well did not kill my first wife, but it delayed proper diagnosis. The cancer had metasticized, but that little doubt lingers. I fault no one. Marine Corps buddies tell me they were always taught to fear untreated water, but I was only a dumb Navy guy.
Eastham Business Owners Pine for Water, Cape Cod Times, March 24, 2012
A kennel owner cannot get fire insurance, a restaurant owner pays thousands to treat his water, and a gym owner struggles to keep her indoor pool from clouding up. These are only a few of the challenges facing the business community in Eastham, the only town on the Cape without at least a partial public water supply. For the second year in a row, town officials are pushing for a multimillion-dollar municipal water system. The Eastham Chamber of Commerce refuses to take a position on the plan to install a $114 million municipal water system. “It’s a very sensitive issue,” said Lisa Panaccione, the chamber president and owner of the Gristmill Antiques Gallery. She said she doesn’t think the chamber should take a stand. “It’s very personal to people either for health or financial reasons.”
Still, many business owners want public water, and they want it bad. “If I had municipal water, it would save me a lot of headaches,” said Ken Taber, owner of the Fairway Restaurant and Pizzeria and The Hole in One Donut Shop. Taber, who has run his business since 1989, was recently told by the state Department of Environmental Protection that he needs to begin testing his water daily. Taber, like all restaurant owners with private wells, must have regular water testing done, according to state law, because he offers water to the public. And he must pay a certified water operator to do the testing and monitoring, said Eastham Health Agent Jane Crowley. The annual bill for the testing alone is nearly $1,700, Taber said.
But that’s just the beginning. About six years ago, Taber installed a pH neutralization system to stop the acidic well water from creating holes in his pipes. As it turned out, the contractor didn’t install it correctly, Taber said. He learned that this fall when the DEP audited the water system as part of the department’s routine checks. Now he must have water samples taken daily to make sure the pH neutralization system works correctly. In addition, he must install a dry well to fix the neutralizer. “I don’t think people realize the cost of not having public water,” Taber said. He said he pays about $2,000 in annual water bills for his restaurant in Orleans. Meanwhile, in Eastham — where he has no water bill — his costs mount well beyond that to maintain water quality and meet state standards. “I probably have the cleanest freaking water in the town,” he said. Taber doesn’t hesitate to follow state standards because public safety is paramount, he said. What worries him most is if the DEP finds something wrong with his well. “Then you could be looking at a huge amount of money for cleanup and no income,” Taber said. Taber has purchased 2 acres of land next door just in case he ever needs a new well. “So I cannot understand how any business would not be concerned with this,” Taber said. Taber’s problems are not uncommon. Crowley said some businesses’ wells have exceeded the DEP’s allowable level of nitrates, an indication the water may be contaminated by septic systems. This triggered the state to order businesses in Eastham to put in water treatment systems to remove the nitrates. Then the nitrates must be stored in a tight tank and taken away for proper disposal, Crowley said. “It’s the cost of doing business,” she said. At Willy’s fitness center on Route 6, owner Barbara Niggel engages in her own struggles with water. Hers involve a junior Olympic-size indoor pool used by the Nauset Regional High School swim team as well as gym members. The pool had to be shut down for a few days in January because the water became cloudy, something that happens routinely, particularly when the swim team practices, Niggel said. When all those kids use the pool, it causes a lot of water to splash out, requiring refilling. And the fresh water from the well contains so many minerals that it causes the water to become cloudy, Niggel said. This has forced Niggel to shut down the pool and “super chlorinate,” a process that clears up the water. But the pool must be closed for 24 to 36 hours, she said. Niggel doesn’t like the smell of chlorine or the dryness it causes skin and hair. The pool uses a saltwater system to minimize chlorine. Fire safety – since no public water means no fire hydrants – also tops Niggel’s list of reasons for wanting municipal water. “I have two children,” Niggel said. “There was a fatal fire near my house, and my kids were traumatized.”
Kirsten Davis, the owner of Nauset Pet Services, has had her own concerns about fire safety. Davis was recently dropped by the company that insured her business, a kennel and pet day care facility started by her parents 41 years ago. When she tried to get a new company to insure her Nauset Road business, they turned her down for two reasons: Cape Cod’s high winds and the lack of fire hydrants. “When they found out we don’t have town water, they said no,” Davis said. “It’s a big issue.” Davis has moved to Brewster and cannot vote in Eastham. “But I grew up here and they’ve talked about (town water) for years,” Davis said. “Eastham missed the boat so many times.” If voters approve the $114 million public water system at the May 6 town meeting, the businesses along Route 6, and the areas around the landfill that have shown contamination of potentially dangerous chemicals in private wells, would be the first to receive hookups, according to the project map on the town’s website.
The cost remains a huge issue for many residents. The plan, which selectmen dropped because of unpopularity last year shortly before town meeting, would have cost the average homeowner with a house worth $400,000 between $100 and $850 a year, depending on the payment schedule, for a total of $16,768 over 32 years. “I have a very good friend who opposes it,” Niggel said. “He says I’ll lose members who cannot afford it. But to me, health is health.”
I love Cape Cod. I especially love Eastham. I love the ponds, bay beaches, the National Seashore, the bike trail, hiking trails, the beauty of our back roads, our library, the people, and a more reflective, calmer way of life than I enjoyed before retirement. I bet that most – if not all – of my neighbors feel the same way. I want to do what I can to preserve this treasure. I want to do that for my child and his kids, and I want to do it for the families of my friends and for the strangers who will come after me. I feel I owe that to the town I love. But, of course, none of us can do this alone.
So, what do families, businesses and government jurisdictions do to preserve a valued way of life or economic vitality? They invest in it. They don’t wait until it is too late or avoidable risks cause substantial harm. What we all do, whether we realize it or not, is make a risk assessment – much as we do when we consider investing our hard earned assets. We balance the risk of action against the risk of inaction, all the time taking account of our own risk tolerance.
We put a new roof on our house last year- the old one was not yet leaking, but its time was near and waiting for disaster wasn’t a good way to protect our home. Businesses update their equipment periodically to stay current and to minimize the risk of breakdowns that would cause a loss of income. And governmental entities replace roads and bridges before they collapse and replace fire equipment before they are unusable to be sure citizen safety
is maintained without loss of service. In short, we invest in what is important to us where the risk of inaction is great.
It is time for Eastham to invest now in drinking water. We should not wait until so many properties have sub-standard water that all town property values plummet, public health is put at risk, and the cost of remediation or even the feasibility of remediation becomes a barrier. Well water in Eastham has shown steady degradation over time. We know for certain that almost half the residences already have septage intruding into our private wells. And it won’t get better. Our population will continue to grow as boomers retire, and our wells, cheek by jowl with our non-conforming septic systems and cesspools are not going anywhere. We should not wait until years-long scientific studies demonstrate with certainty that there are dangerous contaminants in our water. Do we really want to roll the dice and hope for the best? The good news is we have a window where we can take action to preserve our investments in Eastham. Yes, the cost is not insignificant. But the costs of not providing the whole town with a safe drinking water supply will be even greater. If we do not invest to preserve we will have no one to hold accountable but ourselves. I don’t know about you, but my tolerance for risk here is very low – where public health and financial security are concerned, we simply should not be taking chances. Those of us who love Eastham owe it to the town and its citizens to preserve this community for our children and all who follow us. Like the stockholders or partners in a business who invest in the businesses’ infrastructure in order to preserve the value of their holdings, the taxpayers need to do the same thing for our town. Now.
Judy Cannon, Eastham, March 13, 2013
The debate rages on in Eastham regarding nitrates and other substances found in some of our water. History and science indicate that the situation can only get more severe. At the risk of hearing “scare tactics” yet again, I am truly afraid of impending problems facing those living and having businesses in the town if we do not supply a public municipal water system. For example: property burning to the ground without water to fight fires; an accident on Route 6 involving an oil spill; cost of reparation by the town to affected property owners; cost of testing and various other pressures applied by DEP; contaminated water reaching the elementary school; and because the public is aware of our water issues, the lowering property values and resulting tax increases; and loss of business to cottage owners and lodging establishments as well as to restaurants, representing further loss in tax revenue to the town. The real “scare tactic” was minimizing the problem last year and frightening people with gross exaggerations of the cost. As Americans, it is our civic responsibility to provide fire and police protection, a safe infrastructure, and public education; and we must provide all of our citizens with potable water. Please vote “yes.
Recent water contamination in Eastham has renewed discussion of municipal water. The $111 million proposed last year was a lot of money. But what is the cost of doing nothing? The population will grow as baby boomers retire. They will use more water and make more sewage. A local real estate agent told me that buyers have already chosen other towns because they have read the news about our water. This will snowball. Think about Sandwich after pollution from the base, Woburn after W.R. Grace poisoned a well, Pennsylvania after contamination from shale gas fracking. Prices went down. A few more years of inaction by the only town on the Cape without municipal water, punctuated by more wells gone bad, will reduce the value of everyone’s property. If it does so by 5 percent, the loss will exceed the cost of a water system. (A 5 percent value loss for 5,960 properties of average value $400,000 equals $119 million.) It’s our choice. Procrastinating is like refusing to change the oil in your car because it hasn’t broken down yet. It will cost us either way. If we have any sense we will build a water system.
Jeff Cusack and Maureen Fagan, Eastham, March 2013
The Town of Eastham ranks a wonderfully low 323rd among Massachusett’s 351 cities and towns in municipal property tax rates and enjoys the 5th lowest rate among the Cape’s 15 towns. A huge subsidy to our tax revenue is provided by non-resident taxpayers. Summer visitors swell the local population each year from 5646 hardy souls to 30,000-plus seasonal inhabitants, many of whom own homes in town and pay a full share of annual property tax but only employ town services seasonally. As Eastham Realtors (and residents and homeowners) we have observed firsthand the effects of recent health concerns over drinking water in the form of trepidation or outright refusal among our buyer clients to purchase Eastham property in the absence of municipal water. This is a huge threat to the economic health of the town. If we lose buyer confidence over fears of unsafe water home sales will drop, inventories will rise and basic economics dictates that real estate prices will decline. The financial impact of a flight from real estate on local businesses, services, municipal taxes and property values would be severe enough to make the current projected cost of town water seem quite reasonable. An unwelcome but not onerous increase in our relatively low property taxes is preferable to a stigmatized town with a glut of unsalable properties, diminishing home values and a shrinking tax base. This is not an idle concern, it is occurring now. We have both experienced “I’m not buying here until they fix the water” concerns from our buyers. The economic consequences of inaction regarding our town’s degrading drinking water supply need to be acknowledged and addressed. To ensure the long term viability of Eastham and the health of its citizens and businesses we urge a “Yes” vote for town water on May 6th at Eastham Town Meeting.
Eastham residents, regardless of how they voted last spring on the public water system, must update themselves with new information detailing the recent discovery of new contaminants found in neighbors’ wells that are associated with our landfill. That a young family living two lots away from the Eastham Elementary School has contaminated well water is a disgrace to the people of this good town. The discovery this fall of 1,4-dioxane, an industrial chemical classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen, in this neighborhood should be an eye-opener for all residents. This has become a crisis situation in Eastham. Who would buy a home in Eastham knowing their family could be exposed to contaminants in their drinking water? Real estate agents are already saying buyers do not want to look in Eastham because of water issues. The vote on public water at May’s town meeting must show that residents have educated themselves and are now committed to providing safe drinking water to all residents for generations to come. We must do better for these young families, as well as our own. Please attend as many meetings as you can. This is for the good of our town.
It seems obvious that Eastham needs municipal water. We can argue about the levels of nitrate or other contaminants, but it seems certain they are in our wells. Buildout and increased population have affected our delicate aquifer and we must acknowledge the impact on this precious resource. Just as there are those who still question that cigarettes cause cancer, there are those who refuse to acknowledge our negative impact on our fresh water. Yes. It will cost money. Money spread over years and worth spending. This issue has been brought up since the 1960s. The cost has risen and so has the degradation of our wells. The board of selectmen and town administrator have worked to craft a proposal with the intention of providing clean, safe water. Water monitored and free of pollutants like our leaching septic systems; water available in fire hydrants; water with or without electrical power. The many hours spent on this project are to keep Eastham a healthy and vibrant place to live, protect property values, our homes, and the future for our families. Vote yes for townwide water. Let’s put this plan into action.
Stacey Klimkosky, North Eastham – February 28, 2013 (Cape Cod Times)
The town of Eastham needs municipal water. Recently, tests at the wells of homes in the vicinity of the town’s capped landfill revealed a chemical known as 1,4-dioxane, which, according to the U.S. EPA website, is a probable human carcinogen. In addition, public record documents available at the Massachusetts DEP show that contaminants associated with the capped landfill have affected 44 percent of 161 nearby private drinking water wells with testing that began in 2004. It is not just wells at the homes in the vicinity of the landfill that show continued deterioration in the quality of drinking water. The presence of increased levels of nitrates, pharmaceutical waste and household cleaners are indicative of septic system discharge into our groundwater. I plan on becoming the most educated voter I can be. I invite others to join me in attending one or more of the upcoming town-sponsored weekly information sessions beginning March 12. The full schedule can be found on the town of Eastham website. Educate yourself with facts. Be a part of the solution. This is for our town, our health, our children, our property values, our economy, our vacationing guests, our environment, our future.
At a recent Eastham selectmen’s meeting, and again in a subsequent newspaper campaign, it has been indicated that 1,4-dioxane is not a toxic substance. While it is true that no federal drinking water standards for 1,4-dioxane have been established, a maximum contaminant level (MCL) is not necessary to determine a cleanup level. The Environmental Protection Agency does issue health advisories as guidelines for drinking water when there is no MCL established, and for 1,4-dioxane this is 3 micrograms per liter. Also, the EPA has classified 1,4-dioxane as a probable human carcinogen. Anyone with well water containing levels at or above 3 micrograms per liter should not drink or cook with that well water. It was stated in a recent article that the “EPA lists more than 80 substances that have MCLs, and the fact that dioxane, which has been studied since 1974, is not on the list is significant.” From my professional experience, that is not significant. I have spent the past 15 years working for local, state and federal agencies cleaning up contaminants with no MCL. We use “action l
evels” for guidelines for the cleanup of these contaminants.