Water on Prudence Island comes out of wells in the ground. The primary wells are Army Camp Well and Indian Spring #4; the latter generally has high iron content due to its depth. The well water is pumped to a storage tank (Big Blue), and from there it flows down hill to our homes through the distribution network. There are a few more details available in the system overview document.
Each year, the system supplies 6-7 million gallons of water to approximately 350 customer connections. This works out to about 18,000 gallons per day, or 19,000 gallons per customer per year, or 50 gallons per customer per day. Obviously, this is an average, as over 200 of the connections are shut off seasonally, and therefore the number of people using water could be 100, or it could be 1,000. It should also be clear that the 100,000 gallon storage tank could be exhausted somewhat quickly if the wells stop and demand is high.
The water company runs this infrastructure, bills the customers,.
The Board of Directors of the Prudence Island Water District (the “water board”), oversees the water company, approving its staff, expenditures, and actions. An overview of the water board can be found on page 15 of the PIWD bylaws.
Board members are elected. 2019 was an election year. Candidates had to be nominated in mid-April. (Robin Weber ran for and won re-election. The vacated seat was filled by a write-in candidate, Helio Melo.) You are eligible to vote if you either own property in the district, or are a ratepayer. A list of voters is circulated prior to elections; check to make sure your name is on it.
There are a lot more details about how this works in the Act that created the PIWD. There, you can find the process for recalling board members, and so on.
Monthly water board meetings are open to the public. They’re in Hope Brown Center at 1pm, and held on the dates published.
Attendance is recommended. If you attend, you should expect the meeting to take 3 hours, be rather dry, and follow a pre-announced agenda. You will not be allowed to ask questions or interrupt the board, unless you have contacted the board and arranged to be on the agenda.
The primary source of information about the board members is on Portsmouth’s Website. It is reproduced here so that additional information or opinions about the members can be added.
- Robin Weber, Moderator; Term ending in 2023
- Helio Melo, Term ending in 2023
- Phil Brooks,Term ending in 2021
- Chris Brown, Secretary; Term ending in 2021
- Ann-Marie Lockwood, Treasurer; Term ending in 2021
This is held to a number of standards. Safety standards, and customer standards. For example, harmless coliform bacteria violates the legal safety standards, and iron content violates the standards of many customers who want to wash their white laundry and have it come out white.
Current Prudence Island Water District water is not good for customers, and is not up to legal standards.
You will find a number of kinds of rule violations for the Prudence Island Water District in the state’s Drinking Water Watch system.
- Coliform bacteria present in Water (TCR)
- Failure to publish Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) in a timely manner
This website is primarily concerned with recent coliform violations.
Coliform is everywhere. (You, dear reader, have plenty of it inside of you right now.) Despite that, it should not be in your drinking water, and serves as an “indicator pathogen” that is easy to test for, and demonstrates deficiencies in the system that could allow worse pathogens in. Some strains of E.Coli, which is a kind of coliform, are harmful, and any coliform in your water indicates it is probably (indirectly) connected to excretory byproducts of humans, animals, and potentially susceptible to waterborne diseases like giardia or cryptosporidium. If your water sources are free of feces, or are treated to neutralize it, there won’t be live coliform in your water. If you find coliform (even harmless coliform) in your water, it has not been treated properly, even if it is, basically, safe.
The standard way to handle coliform and more serious pathogens is to kill it. In most places, chlorine is introduced to make short work of live bacteria.
A typical water system has two defense mechanisms… pressure to push contaminants away, and chlorine to kill any inadvertently admitted biological contaminants.
PI water has only one defense. Pressure. If the source water is contaminated with coliform, yours will be. If there is a leak, or system depressurization, there is risk of contamination, and the system needs to be cleaned. If you or your neighbor pushes some bacteria into the system, against the pressure, you are at risk.
PIWD is currently handling coliform issues under a consent order with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDoH). RIDoH had demanded “4-log disinfection” of water, but PIWD fought the order. This led to the consent order, which requires, among other things, implementation of the Cross Connection Control Plan, 100% of homes addressed (either compliant with the plan, or disconnected) by the end of August, 2020.
With connection fees of $550 per year and tax rates of $.69/$1000, the expected revenue of the water company would be, in round numbers, $700 per connection, times 350 connections, or roughly $250,000 per year.
Many of the large system improvements have been paid for by government grants.
The legislation that created the PIWD does give it authority to levy taxes. While this may seem unfair to property owners in the district that are not connected to the system, having tax authority does allow the district to access lower-interest loans and bonds, as tax revenue is more assured and therefore the risk is lower.
Anyone without kids who pays the school tax already knows that, while you can fight a tax that funds a service you don’t use, you won’t win!
The best solution to our problems is to drill a hole (or two) that happens to have lots of good water in it. This could solve the iron problems by getting us away from Indian Spring #4. Then the water will be better for customers, but also more easily treatable to eliminate bacterial contamination, by UV, chlorination, or other means. Basically, drilling for better water is essential. The PIWD is trying to do this, as seen from their meeting minutes. But it is hard. They currently can’t drill on DEM land, can’t drill where the DEM has the conservation easements, and can’t drill near a septic system (for obvious reasons). The claim is that it is also hard to get financing to drill a hole, when hitting valuable water is not assured.
There is only one storage tank of any significant size on Prudence Island. Adding redundancy there might be a good investment. In case we have to clean it, or something.
We could try to clean and treat the water coming out of current wells. The cost of doing that has not been adequately described, per opinion of author of website. It must cost money, as we’d have to filter the iron, dispose of it, and then treat the water to eliminate bacteria. It sounds expensive, but on the other hand, the water district does have a 6-figure annual budget to basically pump water out of holes, into a tank, and then let it flow down hill…
Information We Are Trying To Get
- Information from RIDEM about prior agreements and leases to get water from land under their control. (Update: This information has been received and is being curated for the website.)