Editorial: Open the spigots!

Posted 6/6/19

The water ban has been lifted! Hooray!

Residents of Barrington, Warren and Bristol are free to use as much water as they’d like, indoor or outdoor, without restriction. They can water lawns …

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Editorial: Open the spigots!


The water ban has been lifted! Hooray!

Residents of Barrington, Warren and Bristol are free to use as much water as they’d like, indoor or outdoor, without restriction. They can water lawns and flowers, wash cars and unfurl the slip-and-slides.

That’s obviously good news, considering the near-crisis discovered two months ago, when the region’s sole source of water sprang a leak 160 feet deep in bedrock under the Providence River.

Anyone learning the ban has been lifted might automatically assume the leak has been fixed. It has not. There are at least two holes in the cross-bay pipeline, and they continue to leak about 430,000 gallons per day.

However, since it will take the water authority months to fix the pipeline (they’re planning an attempt for September) and because they don’t expect the pipe to get any worse, they lifted the water ban. So the water will keep flowing — even as it’s flowing free.

By a conservative estimate, the water supplier for Bristol County will dump about 40 million gallons of fresh, drinkable (and bought and paid for) water into the dirt and rock, deep underground this summer.

Here’s one way to visualize it. Picture a narrow football field, 300 feet long and 50 feet wide. Dig down 10 feet to make a symmetrical cube, and fill that enormous swimming pool with water. That’s 1 million gallons. The pipe is going to leak 40 of those this summer.

Does that bother anyone?

To be fair, the water authority has almost no choice. They cannot get enough water to the region without using the pipeline, and if they use the pipeline, the pipe will leak.

When the water authority first implemented outdoor and limited-indoor water restrictions a couple of months ago, there was widespread sympathy. In households throughout the region, people were highly attuned to their water consumption, with a heightened social consciousness and awareness of where this precious, life-sustaining commodity comes from.

In many households, people got creative, placing rain barrels outside to collect the water necessary to sustain flowers and shrubs. They dumped dehumidifier buckets into their gardens. They turned off the faucet while brushing teeth, and they took shorter showers (and made their kids take shorter ones, too!).

It was reminiscent of a time a generation ago, when the water authority had an active public relations campaign on the theme of water conservation. It even held an annual coloring/poster contest for school children to design the most creative “save water” messages, with winners receiving prizes and public acclaim in these newspapers.

Back then, water conservation wasn’t just a cute idea — it was critical. The old water supply was under duress, and water conservation was a necessity. The irony is that, because the new cross-bay water supply was so good 20 years ago, there was no need to conserve water. Bristol County residents could dump as much water as they’d like down the drains or into the driveways and no one would care.

Now, in 2019, no one cares.

It’s even more ironic that these communities adopt such a reckless attitude with water when they are wonderfully conscientious is so many other ways. There are myriad projects and proposals to produce green energy through solar or wind. There are laws banning excessive use of plastics or Styrofoam. There are green transportation systems, bike paths and more.

Yet with water, everyone is content to dump 40,000,000 gallons into the ground.

For a moment, the water authority had everyone’s attention and sympathy. Then they let it go.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.