Nantucket is on pace to use more than 120 million gallons of water in July, which would be a record high for a single month on the island.
“We’ve never seen a month like this,” said Mark Willett, director of the Wannacomet Water Company. “We can pump the water, but we never thought we’d see these numbers.”
Wannacomet provides water to roughly 60 percent of the properties on the island, Willett said, and he estimates the town-owned utility is currently serving a population of 60,000 to 65,000 people based on the number of gallons pumped, even while accounting for irrigation during what has been a dry month. If you add in the other 40 percent of the island not connected to municipal water?
“Seeing our numbers and just driving around, without any science behind it, it feels like there’s close to 100,000 people here,” Willett said.
The pandemic has certainly brought additional year-round residents to the island, a phenomenon that Willett noticed in the number of gallons pumped last year. Even so, the June/July period of 2021 will likely show an increase of 28 million gallons over 2020, which amounts to 460,000 more gallons per day over the same period last year.
“Last year during the pandemic I thought the numbers were high and now we’re blowing those out of the water,” Willett said. “We’ve used over 4 million gallons per day for several days in a row.”
The island’s water comes from its sole sole aquifer, meaning it is the only source of drinking water on Nantucket. The lens of fresh water is pumped by Wannacomet at four wells located around the mid-island area, and water is pulled from two different levels of the aquifer. Nantucket’s average precipitation of 43 inches of rain per year is the only source of recharge for the aquifer, and more than makes up for the amount pumped out on annual basis.
Willett said it’s not a question of having enough water – the aquifer is not in danger of running dry – but rather can Wannacomet’s infrastructure pump enough water to keep up with demand, especially with new housing developments like Richmond Great Point connecting to the system.
The spike in water usage has led Wannacomet to start the process of permitting and drilling a new water well. Willett said Wannacomet has started exploratory drilling at Wyer’s Valley off Milestone Road and at North Pasture off Polpis Road, with preliminary water analysis and hydraulic work being completed as well.
“This is just so we have some cushion,” he said. “We planned on doing it a few years from now, but with the crowds and the usage we’re seeing, we started earlier.”