Understanding Water Tanks: Articles 27 and 28 at Town Meeting

Actual photo of Cat Rock water tank. No, not really. Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

The Owl is taking time out of her usual Wednesday afternoon bon-bon eating and soap opera watching to write about water tanks. Why? Because no one has the budget anymore to put up yard signs which would read “Yes on Water Tanks because I like Showers and Stuff” or “No on Articles 27 and 28 because clearly it is a sneaky attempt to take over the world.” Seriously, what would you all do without the Owl to explain hydraulics to you? Oh yes, you would have the actual Town Meeting presentation and vote on May 9, starting at 7 pm and ending next year. 

On Tuesday, the Owl spoke with Laurie Bent, Select Board member and designated Hydraulics expert. You have to know how excited the Owl is about mathy and sciency stuff especially when it comes to pressure, pumping, and engineering in general. My main concern, Weston, is that we are all so worried about trees and their incipient nefarious plot to kill our car barns that we have neglected to fully read the warrant book and these two very important articles. So if you’re ready to science with me, come on along. 

Article 27: Appropriate for Water Tank Replacement

Okay, you’ll need to read all the legal language in the actual warrant book here but here’s the gist of it. In 2019, a third-party engineering company named Wright-Pierce completed a Water System Master Plan at the request of the Select Board—or Board of Selectmen at the time– for the town of Weston. There were more than a few recommendations in it, with the refurbishment or replacement of Weston’s three water tanks most important.  The issues are two here–aging tanks as well as inadequate elevation (calculated based on storage and tank height).

The town voted unanimously (!! well, that’s what the warrant book says but wow, not one dissenter? How very un-Weston) at the December 2019 Special Town Meeting to undertake an analysis of the water tanks and whether they should be refurbished or replaced. The analysis is complete and drumroll, please….Paine’s Hill is the winner! This water tank (age 69) has reached the end of its useful life and must be replaced. But wait, let me tell you more about the competitors –sheesh, I jumped the gun.

The three tanks– on Highland, aka Paine’s Hill; Doublet Hill and on Cat Rock–are very very verrrrrrrry old. Trust me. Or don’t–it will be on the Town Meeting presentation. They are not going to get the historical society’s preservation restrictions on them but you do not want to see the concrete flaking off Paine’s Hill’s tank. The flaking concrete is exposing the steel cables underneath which are now rusting. I try not to think about that. Paine’s Hill is the last surviving water tank of its era – according to the company that built it; none of the rest of its graduating class is still in use. Yay for being the longest-duration quarterback water tank in the game, but please take your participation medal and enjoy retirement, big guy. 

The next step in the Plan (and yes, there is a plan!) is to design and build a replacement tank at an estimated cost of $4.6 million. Yeah, it’s not cheap. What is cheap these days? Tacos. Here’s the reality though–a water tank is not going to get cheaper and it does need to get done. That last part of the sentence is my opinion, and while I fully expect to get an email from the anonymous group that has posted its opposition to water tanks, I find myself pretty secure in that opinion.  I am as much a Hydraulics engineer as the next person.

Image is a bit garbled here but will be better at Town Meeting. Note our pumps are running 24 hours a day at peak…everyone needs a rest…everyone…have a bon-bon

Why does the tank replacement need to be done? Well, my fellow graduates and parents of Dr. K students (Honors Physics if you are clueless here), it’s logical and sciency at the same time. Everyone knows why we have water tanks on the top of hills rather than in valleys, right? Not because we enjoy looking at large cylinders with bad artwork, but because we need water pressure and the water system harnesses the power of gravity. We aim for water pressure in the 35 psi (pounds per square inch) for buildings and 20 psi for fighting fires. Our current tanks are all in the height range of 367 feet (elevation plus tank height) and need to be in the 400’ zone to be high enough to provide water pressure…and water storage. 

There are 300-400 homes in Weston which are built higher than our tanks can handle which means these households do not have adequate pressure. There’s even a map to show where these houses are. Probably they are also findable by looking around to see who still has shampoo in their hair since they can’t wash it out. The new water tanks will be sized in accordance with anticipated water needs over the next 20 years, taking population growth and new buildings into account. And shampoo.

Paine’s Hill is the first of the three to be replaced. And yes, the other two will also need to be replaced. And yes, there will be an exciting tango with the state that will need to be danced.  We cannot take the old tanks off line until the new ones are ready. And that means we will need to build the new ones on Article 97 Conservation land. If anyone, just one person, accuses me of hypocrisy for choosing water and fire safety over trees, well, I will refer you to my attorney and K9 ranger.

And yes, there are other fixes in our future for amazing sums of money. We need a backup pipe to the MWRA. Our street mains are not exactly spring chickens. Anyone know Elon? Maybe we could interest him in Weston over Twitter. I think we’re more fun, don’t you? I wonder how he feels about trees. I will tweet him.

Article 27 requires a ⅔ vote. It is unanimously supported by Fin Com. 

Article 28 : Amend Zoning By-Laws – Municipal Utility Structure Standards

This would be a zoning by-law amendment that would exempt water tank construction from requesting a variance from certain Zoning By-laws about height. Current zoning restrictions would limit the new water tanks to heights of 37 feet, which is the height limitation in residential zones.  The current zoning restrictions pay no attention to the ground elevation on which structures are built so if we have to live with 37-foot-high tanks, we better get ourselves some long straws so we can suck water out of the new tanks.

I have no sciency stuff to report here. This article is only interesting if the one before it passes. Fin Com decided to take no position on it which as always is a mystery soon to be cleared up by a letter to the editor from a Fin Com representative. One hopes anyway. This article also has to pass by a 2/3 vote.

The three titans of time Water Tanks with their ground elevations and heights


And there you have it, Weston. Water tanks explained to you in a bare-bones (might I say pellet?) format. AP Physics will be a breeze for you. 

See you at Town Meeting, May 9 at 7 pm. 


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