TOWNSEND -- The Water Department failed in its bid to become a separate water district at Town Meeting. The commissioners discussed the vote with attorney Mary Bassett.
"My observation is twofold. Not having the support of the selectmen, I thought that was pretty fatal. They were very vocal about their opposition. It also seems like everyone in the town is very happy with you and thinks you do a good job. They couldn't get their arms around why you wanted this move," Bassett told the Board of Water Commissioners Monday.
She worked with the department over several months, preparing a draft of an article that, if passed at Town Meeting, could be sent to the Legislature to form a new water district.
"The people lost their right to control their own destiny within the Water Department. Those who pay the bills are the ones who get to do the voting (if a district is formed)," Chairman Niles Busler said.
"They don't like change is how I see it," he said.
When he spoke to voters before the meeting, "they thought it was a good, positive thing," he said.
Because Townsend is a bedroom community, many supportive voters did not attend the evening Town Meeting -- they were just getting home at 7 p.m., he said.
Another part of the reason for rejecting the article might have been related to understanding the legal document, said Department Supervisor Paul Rafuse.
"It's going to seem kind of confusing. It's just the way legal documents are worded," he said.
Only two people attended an informational session at the Water Department, Bassett said.
"I think we made a good attempt at getting the word out there," Rafuse said.
Town counsel ruled that including information about a new district in the bills would be a conflict of interest, he said.
The department should not waste the time between now and when it next submits an article for a district, but should use that time to educate the voters, Bassett said.
The commissioners also met with a member of the West Groton Water District.
Townsend and West Groton are the only two major public water suppliers in the Squannacook River subwatershed area, said Doug DeNatale, a senior hydrogeologist.
The new Sustainable Water Management Initiative, a program from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, could be expensive for the two departments, he said.
Based on data gathered by the state, SWMI placed the two districts in a category that might require ongoing water restrictions, DeNatale said.
This could double the water rate, Rafuse said.
The data the state used is not relevant to the local situation, DeNatale said. It is based on watersheds where water is not returned to the basin after it is used, but is cleaned and released in a different watershed. Locally, more than 90 percent of water used returns to the same watershed.
In August, Pearl Hill Brook has low flow, DeNatale said. Using a different town well during that time might be a less-expensive alternative than water restrictions, he said.
The town could also be asked to make an expensive mitigation, such as removing a dam, to allow more flow on the Squannacook River, he said.
"People are making rash decisions based on dirty science," Rafuse said.
DeNatale asked the Townsend Department to join the West Groton District to do a study. One of the purposes of the study would be to find out what is really happening locally, he said.
The commissioners voted to proceed with looking into hiring a hydrogeologist.
"It's not inappropriate to ask the board for a vote, but I don't know where we're going to get the money," Busler said.