Poor Management of the Water System

Author: John Lukach              Date: September 16, 2016

Shrewsbury’s selectmen have managed the town’s water system poorly for several years. As water commissioners, they make the major decisions, so they are responsible for the town’s water problems. The Town Manager and the water and sewer commissioner simply follow their direction. Problems include:

1) The recent, widespread Manganese/Contaminant problem. The selectmen were slow to address this problem and did not take other actions years ago which could have reduced the severity of this problem.

2) The increasing reported levels of Unaccounted Water (UAW). In 2007 the town’s reported UAW was 21%. Despite the state’s requirement that UAW be reduced over time to 10%, it has now risen to 35%. This means that the town must pump 3 gallons of water for every 2 gallons it delivers to its customers. So during this summer’s drought, if UAW had been only 10%, the town would have been pumping over 1,000,000 gallons per day (about 25%)  LESS than it actually did. And less pumping would have resulted in lower Manganese/Contaminant levels.

3) Spending money on a problem that did not exist. Several years ago the selectmen decided that a major cause of UAW was water meters that were reading too low. So they obtained separate appropriations at Town Meetings totaling $2.25 Million to replace residential water meters. Result: according to the Town Manager‘s September 9, 2016 memo, replacing the water meters has had no significant impact, and thus no impact on reducing UAW.

Meanwhile, the selectmen have made no special concerted efforts, e.g. special appropriations, to identify and resolve other potential major causes of UAW, such as major water main leaks, unmetered water connections, or water meters of large commercial users.

4) Serious errors in reporting residential water consumption and unaccounted water to the state. The state found a major error in Shrewsbury’s water report of 2012. Yet the selectmen did nothing to prevent future reporting errors, as the state reports in 2013 and 2014 also had major errors in residential water consumption and in unaccounted water.

5) The selectmen have not developed comprehensive, written policies and procedures for the town’s water system, including rate setting and base charges. (per Selectman DePalo’s June 2, 2016 letter)

6) Inequitable water rates. The selectmen have continued to increase residential water rates faster than commercial water rates even after the original justification no longer applied.

And at the recent September 13, 2016 selectmen’s meeting, the Town Manager said that substantial rate increases would be needed in about a year, and his proposed rate scenarios made it clear that he again intends to increase residential rates in dollar terms faster than commercial rates, making the rate inequities even worse.

Therefore, Town Meeting and town residents should take a more active role in overseeing the water department.

Thank you.


To learn more about these issues, you can watch the September 14, 2016 taping of the SRT show. It will run on Shrewsbury local channel 28 for the next few weeks at the following times: Wednesdays at 1:00PM;  Thursdays at 6:00PM and 9:30PM;  Fridays at 5:30AM and 10:30AM.

Or, you can soon view it real time by going to this town web site:


Find the Public Affairs folder, click on it, and then click on the SRT show for September 14, 2016.