Stamford mayor: City bests Darien, Greenwich in limiting water use
Updated 3:33 pm, Thursday, January 19, 2017
STAMFORD — Looking ahead to spring and summer, residents and businesses will likely face restrictions due to the ongoing drought.
But even with rules in place limiting water use, data provided by the mayor’s office show Stamford — which shares a reservoir system with Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien — has lower spikes in usage during warmer months than neighboring towns.
Darien’s water use surges 150 percent when temperatures are at their hottest, versus a 30 percent increase in Stamford, according to 18 months of Aquarion Water Co. billing data analyzed by Mayor David Martin. Greenwich uses 130 percent more water during warm months, and New Canaan ups its intake 110 percent.
Make no mistake: With more than 122,000 residents, Stamford takes in millions more gallons than its smaller neighbors. In the summer, however, the city’s average household water use peaks at 5,000 gallons per month, while Greenwich reaches 23,000 gallons per household in a city of 62,000.
Martin attributes the spike to lawn watering, which has been banned in towns and cities across the state as the drought persists. Fairfield County is still in the midst of a “severe drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has tracked the region’s drought for the past 31 months.
“The big numbers are in irrigation, and that’s where we have to focus,” Martin said.
Martin has proposed an ordinance requiring irrigation contractors to install rain sensors and provide clients with instructions for turning off their systems, measures he hopes will preserve what’s left in reservoirs.
“We don’t have enough rain,” he said, “so if we want to save the water we have in place, you have to do it through summer irrigation.”
Martin plans to meet with irrigation companies in March to discuss the ordinance, should the Board of Representatives approve it. The proposal is set to be advertised for a public hearing.
The mayor has met with elected officials to drum up support for a coordinated water conservation effort.
“I don’t want to impose hardship on the city of Stamford while the town of Greenwich has been spraying their green grass,” and vice versa, Martin said.
Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, whose town has enforced a watering ban, agreed with the need for collaboration. “Clearly there needs to be a more regional or statewide approach to establishing a uniform conservation proposal,” he said.
Empowered by town ordinance, Greenwich has limited water use and banned all outdoor watering since fall. “It has helped us achieve a reduction in use, but it doesn't have the same weight as if it were a state requirement,” Tesei said.
Besides the outdoor watering ban, Aquarion has asked all customers to cut usage by 20 percent while its reservoirs are critically low. Stamford’s two reservoirs, North Stamford and Laurel, are at 44 percent capacity; the 20-year average is 80 percent. The reservoirs serve mostly Stamford and surrounding communities.
“Water isn’t owned by any one community, even though reservoirs are domiciled in one community,” Tesei said. “The Aquarion system is a system of repositories that feed a system.”
Stamford, Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan residences have wells in areas not served by Aquarion.
Peter Fazekas, spokesman for the utility company, did not have data about the breakdown of wells versus public hookup in the towns it serves.
Aquarion is working to identify its top 100 users, but has not released data about which towns top the list.
To redirect water from fuller reservoirs in the Bridgeport system, the utility installed a temporary pipe to redirect 4 million gallons of water a day to Stamford, New Canaan and Greenwich.
New Canaan First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said usage in his town dropped once residents were made aware of the water emergency.
“We’re part of a region and our region is suffering,” Mallozzi said. “If it means that we’ve had to put up with some unsightly piping to make sure water is getting to everyone, then we’re doing our part.”
An earlier version of this article gave incorrect percentage increases for water use in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien.