Eastham Gets Municipal Water - Finally

Aug 18, 2016

For years, Eastham has had the distinction of being the only town on Cape Cod without a municipal water system. But that’s about to change. Residents voted to install a town-wide system after toxins began leaching from the town’s landfill into nearby private wells, and work crews have spent the past two years installing a labyrinth of pipes, substations and a water tower that make up the new system.

Water systems operator Roy Maher flushes water out of the pipes that are part of Eastham's new municipal water infrastructure.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

At a remote clearing deep in the woods of Eastham, water systems operator Roy Maher attaches a large wrench to a red hydrant. After 5 or 6 strenuous turns, water gushes out of the hydrant and arcs high in the air. It’s part of the flushing process to ensure the distribution pipes in the new system are free of debris and other material prior to going online.

“That first gurgling sound that you heard was air being purged outta the hydrant. As we’re bringing on new sections of main, we are doing this exercise of purging the water outta the system. That’s called flushing,” said Greg Sands with Environmental Partners, the Quincy-based firm hired by the town to design the new system. After flushing, the pipes will be chlorinated, then de-chlorinated, and then tested for bacteria.

Eastham's new water tower
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

A few feet away, Eastham Town Administrator Sheila Vanderhoef looked on. She’s been in her position for 24 years. Vanderhoef said municipal water first was proposed back in 1969, but was a non-starter. The town re-visited the idea about ten years ago – the price tag then was around $76-million dollars. But that, too, was voted down.

“People were worried that if you get water, you get bigger buildings, you get more density, those kinds of issues, zoning issues,” Vanderhoef said. “And I think it was mostly cost, and ‘There’s nothing wrong with my water.’”

Eventually, toxins like the chemical 1, 4 Dioxane began leaching from the Town’s unlined landfill. That prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to step in, telling the town to address the contamination. The state began helping with outreach to sell the municipal water system to voters, and Phase One of the system passed Town Meeting in 2014. Total cost: $114.8 million dollars.

“The next Town Meeting, citizens came up and wanted to put the rest of the system on, because everybody was going to have to pay for it, ‘cause we’re paying for it out of taxes,” Vanderhoef said. “So then we got the second Town Meeting that said ‘water everywhere.’”

Inside a small building nearby, Greg Sands explained what happens when water is drawn up from the aquifer some 70 feet below the surface.

This network of pipes and valves is used to manage the flow of Eastham's municipal water.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“There’s a production well on the other side of this building that taps down into the aquifer,” he said. “The pump behind us is pullin’ that water up outta the aquifer into this building. This building is pushing that water out into the distribution system. The tank is hooked into the distribution system. so water coming out of here doesn’t necessarily go straight to the tank, but it goes into the network of pipes to which the tank is connected.”

Back outside, Sheila Vanderhoef watched as work on the system progresses – on schedule and on budget. She said she’s relieved that Eastham voters finally acted.

“It’s very expensive and they know that, but they’ve been behind it. And it solves a long-time problem for us. So I’m happy that I was able to participate in helping figure out how we could go about it,” she said.

Phase One of Eastham’s new system will have water available this Fall, while construction and connections will continue into 2017.