CHARLESTOWN — Questions about a power company’s plans to truck water from Narragansettt tribal land in Charlestown to a proposed plant in Burrillville could be answered at an upcoming hearing.
The state Energy Facility Siting Board has scheduled a public hearing on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. at Charlestown Elementary School concerning a contract between Invenergy Development LLC and the Narragansett Indian Tribe for water to cool the turbines of the proposed Clear River Energy Center, a 900-megawatt natural gas- and oil-fired power plant to be located on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville.
When running on gas, the plant would require about 15,000 gallons of water per day and when running on oil, it would need about 724,320 gallons of water per day. No limit or “not to exceed” amount has been specified.
Because the water will be removed from its aquifer, Charlestown was granted intervenor status as an affected town by the siting board on Oct. 17.
In late September, the tribe contracted with Invenergy to supply water from tribal wells that are sourced from the southern portion of the Lower Wood Aquifer, located in the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed. The watershed comprises all or parts of Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton,Westerly, Exeter, West Greenwich, and South Kingstown in Rhode Island, and North Stonington, Stonington, Voluntown, and Sterling in Connecticut.
The water removal could affect the entire watershed, Virginia Lee, president of the Charlestown Town Council, said Saturday.
“Everyone in watershed could be affected, we don’t know,” she said. “It’s not just Charlestown, so people should come to the hearing.”
Charlestown relies almost entirely on private wells, which are sourced from groundwater, she said. If this uses up the water or drops the water table or dries up people’s wells, there’s no more water, that’s the sole source aquifer,” she said. “South Kingstown and Westerly max out their water in the summertime because demand doubles, so we’re already starting to hit limits of water for people to drink.”
She also said that if the area were to experience a drought, no other water source would be available.
“It gets replenished by the rainfall, but if there’s a drought, that’s it, that’s all there is; what we get each year is all we have to use,” she said. “Unlike Scituate and Providence and the urban areas that rely on reservoirs, this is groundwater, that’s our only source of drinking water.”
She encouraged people from Charlestown and the entire watershed to attend the hearing.
“People deserve answers that we haven’t gotten,” Lee said. “Come and speak up for drinking water; the more perspectives the board can hear, especially from the people of Charlestown, the better.”
Approximately 4 to 44 tanker trucks would transport the water to Burrillville daily, depending on the need. The route from Charlestown to Burrillville has not been specified.
“It’s going to be huge,18-wheeler tanker trucks traveling up and down these roads,” Lee said. “The state and town roads weren’t built for 18-wheelers, and taxpayers will have to pay for the wear and tear and upkeep on the roads.”
Benn Water, of Ashaway, is named as the trucking company in the contract. The company is a third-generation, family-owned business that has been providing bulk water deliveries to Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut for 49 years.
Though the town has intervenor status, details of the contract are accessible only to the town’s attorneys, not the public, because a protective court order excludes the contract’s public exposure.
Because some members of the Narragansett Tribe have objected to the contract, it’s possible the legality of the document could come under the jurisdiction of American Indian Law and the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act, according to Ruth Platner, who chairs Charlestown’s Planning Commission.
Tribal members could not be reached for comment.