Homes with private wells would be exempt from drought restrictions

  • In this July 16, 2016, photo, a sign in the midst of parched, brown grass in front of a fire station explains water restrictions in Sudbury, Mass., during a long drought.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) Bill Sikes

Monitor staff
Monday, January 15, 2018

A bill being considered in the state Legislature would allow homes on private wells to continue watering their lawns during a drought, even when homes connected to municipal systems have to stop.

“Private wells are private property and this has always been the legal tradition – we have what are called riparian rights,” said Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1226. “This is protecting the premise under which the property was bought.”

Advocates argue that because private wells draw from underwater aquifers that extend beyond property lines and are used by other people, it is necessary for communities to limit their usage during droughts in order to protect water supplies for everybody.

Itse argues that in such a case, property owners should be paid by communities to compensate them for not being able to use their wells.

“If the state were to allow damages to the property owner, for loss of property, that would be acceptable,” he said. “It’s a continuing encroachment upon property rights, a change in the terms under which property was bought. The government needs to be held accountable for that.”

The bill would still allow municipalities to limit outdoor water usage by homes connected to public water supplies.

The Legislature gave cities and towns the authority to ban outdoor watering after an extended dry period in 2007, both for those on wells and those on public water systems, as part of a statewide drought management program. In summertime, as much as one-third of a home’s water use is for outdoor purposes, according to the state.

“Average indoor water use per capita in New Hampshire is approximately 63 gallons per day. In the summer, total water use increases to 93 gallons per capita per day due to outdoor water use, which is mostly attributed to lawn watering,” according to the 2017 municipal drought guidelines issued by the Department of Environmental Services.

The current law (RSA 41:11-d) says communities can restrict “residential outdoor lawn watering when administrative agencies of the state or federal government have designated the region as being under a declared state or condition of drought.”

There have been efforts to expand the authority by allowing municipalities to keep businesses from doing outdoor watering, not just private residents, but those have not gone anywhere in the Legislature. Last year a version passed both houses but was sent back to committee, where it effectively died.

The original law covered only residences due to concern about forcing certain types of businesses to close, such as car washes or golf courses, according to testimony given last year by Brandon Kernen, a hydrologist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services who helped draft the 2007 law.