At the end of September, 18 municipalities signed an agreement pledging to address water supply concerns in the Ipswich River Watershed as a region, with decisions made by consensus.

The charter for the North Shore Water Resilience Task Force sets forth a mission “to identify and advance long-term solutions to improve water supply resilience and ecosystem health in the Ipswich River Watershed.” The Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Department of Conservation and Recreation will act as facilitators for the Task Force.

The charter is being heralded as a joint effort of 24 state legislators, led by Sen. Bruce Tarr, local officials and stakeholders to take a regional, rather than piecemeal, approach.

The agreement follows a summer that saw critical drought levels in most of the state. The Ipswich River, affected by the drought, supplies drinking water for 350,000 people in 14 communities, according to the Ipswich Watershed Association.

The charter was signed by the cities of Beverly, Lynn, Peabody and Salem and the towns of Andover, Boxford, Burlington, Danvers, Hamilton, Ipswich, Lynnfield, Middleton, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Topsfield, Wenham and Wilmington, as well as the Ipswich Watershed Association and the Salem and Beverly Water Board. Some of the communities signed on to the charter are located in the watershed, but do not draw water from it.

“Hamilton has struggled with high-quality, reliable water sources and is impacted by annual seasonal water bans, like many communities in the Ipswich River watershed,” said Hamilton Town Manager Joseph Domelowicz Jr. “However, we know we are not able to solve those issues on our own.”

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said she’s “grateful for the legislative and local leaders who have helped convene this regional approach” that bolsters her city’s commitment to sustainability and resiliency. Salem has long had a strong commitment to water conservation measures, she said, including a smart meter program, providing water-conserving fixtures to property owners, and having sustainable water supply protocols at reservoirs.

The charter tasks the members with an initial group of consensus-building tasks, including exploring financial resources available to the region and considering the feasibility of desalination, a new reservoir in Topsfield, and a more robust interconnection network. The charter sets specific short-, medium- and long-term measures of success.

“I think for all of the communities, the agreement is a way of showing our shared commitment to working together to solve our shared water security issues,” Domelowicz said. “A solution to providing for the water needs of the residents of our North Shore area as well as protecting the health of the Ipswich River will require this kind of unified approach among the communities that use the river.”

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