Editorial: A water dilemma for Bow, Concord

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

It must be maddening. The businesses at Bow Junction, where interstates 89 and 93 meet, look out at the Merrimack River and down Hall Street to where homes, although they are in Bow, are connected to Concord’s municipal water lines. Yet the water from the wells that serve Bow Junction businesses, among them the Grappone auto dealerships, are unfit to drink.

So we understand why the Bow Junction businesses and Bow town officials have continued their three-decade effort to convince Concord’s city council to extend water service to the junction. But as it has in the past, the council should say “No.”

The question is not one of coming up with a mutually agreeable way for the two communities to share the costs and benefits of taking a more regional approach to the provision of municipal services. That might be possible, but it won’t be easy. The question is one of capacity.

It was just last year that Concord’s general services department asked users to voluntarily conserve water because drought had lowered the level of Long Pond, the source of the most pristine water delivered to Concord customers. The request was not lifted until spring rains refilled the reservoir at the end of April.

Concord consumed 1.6 billion gallons of water in the drought year 2016. One billion gallons of that came from the Contoocook River. The city also has four wells near the Soucook River in Pembroke capable of providing 1 million gallons per day in an emergency, yet its master plan predicts that by 2027 Concord will have to start pumping water from the Merrimack.

On an average day, Concord consumes 4 million gallons of water. Of that, Long Pond, also known as Penacook Lake, can provide 2.5 million gallons. The balance is pumped from the Contoocook River, whose water requires more treatment. The city prohibited recreational activity on and around Long Pond in 1951, a decision that helps to explain why Concord’s water has been rated the best in the state.

Since it would make no sense to extend Concord water lines to Bow Junction under a short-term contract, any agreement would likely have to guarantee service for at least a couple decades. The additional municipal services would spur development in Bow.

That development, as Mayor Jim Bouley has warned, might come at Concord’s expense if a business that might have moved to the city moved to Bow instead.

New Hampshire’s outsized reliance on property taxes to fund municipal services and government make it difficult to take a regional approach to some problems. Water, in some parts of the world and in America’s West, is the new gold.

Earlier this year, the EPA issued a report that outlined what’s in store for New Hampshire as the climate warms. In the past century, most of the state has warmed two to three degrees, “twice as much as the rest of the contiguous 48 states.” Average precipitation, much of it in the form of drenching rains, will increase, so flooding is likely to be worse during the winter and spring, and droughts worse during summer and fall,” the report stated.

The city will begin an assessment of its future water needs this fall. The assessment might show that Concord has the ability to become a regional water provider, but it’s far more likely that it will say just the opposite.