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Trouble Across the Pond: Concord Tries to Block Littleton Access

November 17, 2018

Lowell Sun

LITTLETON -- A debate over who gets to use the waters in Nagog Pond will head to court after the Town of Concord, which for more than a century has used the pond’s resources, filed a complaint arguing that Littleton does not share similar rights.

The dispute arose over the past year as Littleton officials, searching for new resources to meet a growing population, began pursuing ways to draw water from the area. Concord’s leaders opposed the move, and last week, the town’s attorneys filed a case in state Land Court asking a judge to rule whether Littleton has any legal access to the pond.

The exact legal mechanics at play are complex, stretching back more than 130 years.

Nagog Pond is split by the Littleton-Acton town line, but an 1884 act gave Concord -- whose borders are several miles away from the pond -- rights to use its water as the town expanded. In 1909, Concord built a dam and other infrastructure and has continued to operate it since then, pulling hundreds of thousands of gallons per day.

However, a section of that legislation allowed Acton and Littleton to access the pond “whenever said towns or either of them may require the same for similar purposes.” Nick Lawler, general manager of Littleton Electric Light and Water District, said he believes the town is therefore authorized draw what it needs from Nagog.

“We’ve had a 25 percent population increase from 2000 to today, so the community is really growing and we need water to service our people,” Lawler said. “The beauty is we have water within our four corners to service our people.”

In February, after years of discussions about the pond’s water and plans for a bedrock well near Cobbs Pond, Littleton informed Concord it intended to begin withdrawing water and would pay Concord for any “water damages” it needed to compensate. The two parties held discussions over the following months, but those were unsuccessful in reaching a compromise.

Concord officials now disagree that Littleton’s efforts are within its rights. Town Manager Christopher Whelan did not return a call seeking comment, but in the complaint Concord filed Nov. 8, attorneys argued that the state’s Water Management Act in 1985 “effectively repealed” the 1884 act that reserved possibilities for Littleton and Acton. In other words, they argue that Concord and only Concord has rights to the pond’s water.

The complaint asks a judge to weigh in and rule whether the Water Management Act does indeed supersede the 1884 act, and Littleton will continue to argue that law grants it specific access. In a press release, LELWD described Concord’s efforts to hold onto control of Nagog as a “monopoly.”

“I think it’s pretty clear from the filing that they don’t think we have the right and we think we do,” Lawler said.

Concord’s case also argues that Littleton’s efforts to install a well near Cobbs Pond is improper because the well would connect via aquifer to Nagog. That is another area of disagreement: Littleton officials said those concerns were disproven by studies, while Concord’s complaint said pump test data shows that such a well would indeed connect.

A resolution to the issue is not expected immediately. Littleton was served with notice of the case earlier this week, and although town officials plan to fight the complaint, their formal response had not yet been filed.

Acton is not yet part of the case. Town Manager John Mangiaratti said in an email that he was “aware of this lawsuit” and that selectmen planned to discuss it, but did not elaborate.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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