COLUMN: Increased time at home means increased water and sewer usage

With Abington residents spending more time at home, municipal water and sewer usage is up.

By Ken Coyle

Before the days of social distancing and Covid-19, you washed your hands, prepared meals, did laundry, used the ‘facilities’, and probably didn’t give much thought to any of those activities.  

The biggest difference today is where these daily activities are now taking place.  

There’s a lot more washing of hands, food preparation, and time in the bathroom occurring in your home rather than at work or school. At the grocery store chain where I work, it’s easy to see the effect that the stay-at-home habits have had on orders such as toilet paper, hand soap, dish detergent, anti-bacterial wipes, and cleaners are in high demand — and very often impossible to find.  The use of all the above mentioned products also translates into another trend; one which is not so visible — the increased usage of water in your household and of course, the inevitable increase in the amount of water flowing out.

These increases do not go unnoticed to the Abington & Rockland Joint Water Works or the Abington Department of Public Works, which operates the town’s sewer system. 

Joint Water Works Superintendent Joseph LaPointe has noticed an increase in water usage compared to recent years and has been running extra shifts at the treatment plants to keep up with demand.

John Stone, Abington’s Department of Public Works director, said with more people staying at home, usage of the town’s sewer system is up, even with the town’s public buildings, restaurants and non-essential businesses closed.

“There has been about a 10% increase in sewer flow the last month,” said Stone.

That increase is good news because a significant drop in water or sewer usage could have impacted revenue projections for the water works or sewer department.

However, along with the increase in sewer usage comes the inevitable increase in clogged pipes.  The main culprit is due to the flushing of “disposable” wipes. 

“This has been a problem in the past but seems to be increasing now due to obvious reasons,” added Stone. “Despite what the wipes say on the labels they are not disposable and should only be disposed of in the trash,” reminded Stone. 

Just as changes are being made in most of our daily routines, changes are being made in the daily operations of Abington’s water and sewer departments. Work schedules in both departments have been adjusted with the intention of mitigating potential exposure between employees and customers, while also maintaining the continuity of operation.  

“Joint Water Works has suspended some of the non-essential services, such as in-home or on-site routine inspections repairs and maintenance,” said LaPointe.  “Some of the Water Department’s clerical help has been working from home, but someone is always available at the office to answer phones and schedule for any issues that come up.

“Distribution and water treatment plant staff are practicing social distancing by making sure there is only one person in the plant or in a vehicle at a time,” added LaPointe.

“The (DPW) department is taking similar measures by rotating office staff, and ensuring that employees are traveling alone in town trucks and vehicles and providing sanitizing products to make sure those vehicles are clean at the end of their shifts,” said Stone.

Even with all these changes, the town’s water and sewer employees have continued routine maintenance operations. Hydrant flushing has continued according to plan. The DPW had dealt with three heavy wind and rain storms in the last two and a half weeks, along with sweeping the bulk of Abington’s roads and starting the annual catch basin cleaning program. Both managers are proud of their departments and were quick to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of all their employees in these unprecedented times.

Abington residents that are suffering financial hardships during this pandemic will be glad to know that Governor Baker, knowing the importance of hand washing in battling this virus, has mandated that the water departments throughout the Commonwealth suspend all shutoffs for non-payment during the state of emergency declaration. The Abington Board of Selectmen has also voted to waive interest and late fee penalties on any water or sewer usage bill since March 10th as long as payment is made prior to June 30, 2020.

The Abington & Rockland Joint Water Works ensures residents that all drinking water treatments will continue and the World Health Organization has determined that the COVID-19 virus is not transmitted via treated drinking water.

The Joint Water Works also wants to remind residents about the emergency phone line. The line’s recording is updated daily with information as to what areas of town will be affected by flushing of pipes and also if there is any kind of emergency such as a water main break. The number is 339-469-1427.

If the water and sewer usage in your home is on the rise, there may be some ways to lower your bill. Water and sewer rates are tied into one another, meaning that the usage of both is determined by the water reading, using the assumption that what goes in, must go out.  It is worth mentioning that if you are planning on filling a swimming pool this season, consider contacting the DPW and ask to borrow a temporary meter as it can save on the sewer bill since water is not going into the system to be treated.  There is also a 20% senior discount available to homeowners 62 years of age or older on their water bills.  For more information on this as well as more water saving tips, please visit the town’s website: and under departments click on the Abington-Rockland Joint Water Works.

(Ken is a member of the Board of Selectmen)

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