Guest columnist Alexandra Dewey: Quabbin protection, potential

Quabbin Reservoir

Quabbin Reservoir FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDRA DEWEY

Published: 05-24-2024 2:40 PM

Writer Mike McGee makes several relevant points in his recent column on benefits to the public from the Quabbin-Ware watershed lands [“Quabbin region will never see any bounty,” Gazette, May 13]. However, there are several points that can be helpful for further clarification.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Water Supply Protection (DCR-DWSP) is responsible for managing the Quabbin-Ware and Wachusett watershed lands. They, in combination with MassDEP, are responsible for water quality protection for this public drinking water source.

Public access and watershed protection plans are prepared by DCR-DWSP, as well as quarterly progress reports that document the status of DCR-DWSP programs and policies. MassDEP completes the Annual Water Filtration Avoidance tour and corresponding report that reviews DCR-DWSP actions to make sure they adhere to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state public drinking water standards.

Due to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state public drinking water standards, certain types of recreation are not allowed on watershed lands, including as dog walking, swimming and camping. Horseback riding, snowmobiling, and bicycle riding are allowed in areas away from water intakes in the Quabbin-Ware watersheds.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), a wholesale public drinking water supplier, has a MassDEP registration to withdraw 300 million gallons of water a day from the Quabbin Reservoir.

Their infrastructure of pumps, pipes, aqueducts and tunnels bring the water to the Greater Boston area. The MWRA funds the DCR-DWSP annual budget and also the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to watershed communities.

The MWRA wants to sell more water to communities who want to buy it. MWRA believes that they have an extra 75-85 million gallons a day available to sell. They have completed three feasibility studies, one for the North Shore, one for the South Shore and one for MetroWest communities. There is not enough water available in their MassDEP registration of 300 million gallons a day to sell to all these towns.

What about the watershed communities that surround the Quabbin that help protect water quality? Will any of these towns need additional drinking water in the future? Has PFAS and other contaminants been found in public drinking water sources or residential private wells in these towns?

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Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Aaron Saunders have requested a feasibility study from the MWRA to address these questions. The study will provide an important opportunity for watershed towns to look at their drinking water sources to determine potential future needs. The data can be used to determine possible use of Quabbin water for western towns that may need it.

Mike Magee is right. The Quabbin is spilling this year over the spillways and down the Swift River. It is a beautiful sight, and not a wasteful use of water. This does not occur every year, and another drought year is likely. The drought of 2016 is a good example. The Quabbin Reservoir level went down to 79% full. While many towns in Massachusetts were under outdoor watering restrictions from May to October, all fully supplied MWRA communities were allowed to water their lawns daily with Quabbin water.

Who should be able to buy Quabbin water? Does MWRA have a responsibility to recognize the role watershed communities play in protecting water quality for water sold to eastern communities?

If you are interested in these questions, you can contact Sen. Jo Comerford at Jo.Comerford@masenate.gov, Rep. Aaron Saunders at Aaron.Saunders@mahouse.gov, Anne Gobi (director of rural affairs) at Anne.Gobi3@mass.gov and Fred Laskey (director of the MWRA) at Frederick.Laskey@mwra.com.

Alexandra Dewey lives in Pelham.