Love That Not-So-Dirty Water!
Have you ever stopped to wonder where your tap water is coming from?
Most of us probably don’t realize the journey our water has completed by the time it reaches our tap. The main water source for Boston and its surrounding areas is the Quabbin Reservoir, located approximately 100 miles west of the city. The Quabbin holds 412 billion gallons of water when it is full. The water is distributed to 46 metropolitan Boston communities in Boston and its surrounding areas via aqueducts and pipeline that run 200 feet below the Earth’s surface.
Boston is surrounded by fresh water sources, why transport our water so far?
The abundance of accessible fresh surface water was one of the main reasons why the English colonists settled in what is now the Greater Boston area. In the early 1600s, local water sources were a convenient way to distribute delicious water to a small population. However, as the city grew, it became clear that finding a new source of water would be crucial.
According to the Friends of Quabbin organization, “In the late 1800’s the population of Boston was exploding. The city’s water supply was so polluted it was actually causing typhoid epidemics. And, as officials discovered when they tried to contain a series of fires that raged across the city, there just wasn’t enough of it.”
The dwindling, polluted reservoirs (Jamaica Pond in Roxbury, Lake Cochituate in Natick, Sudbury Reservoir, and the Framingham Reservoirs) were no match for the city’s exponential growth.
In 1919, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and Department of Public Health formed a joint board and began researching candidates for new water supplies. The Swift River Valley was ultimately chosen as the new location. The proposed cost of creating the Quabbin (a reservoir of this size was not yet in existence – the board was going to have to build it themselves!) was a jaw-dropping $65 million. There were 4 towns in the valley that had to be completely flooded by damming the Swift River.
The reservoir’s name originates from the indigenous Nipmuc people, who had once called their home “Qaben,” meaning “meeting of the waters.”
Filled to the Brim
The hefty price tag of the project was far outweighed by the benefits of such a well-thought out plan for the future growth of Boston. Not only do 2.2 million people have a bountiful supply of clean water flowing in that will continue to do so for generations to come; Massachusetts has also gained an “accidental wilderness” that is home to species such as coyotes, foxes, fishers, wildcats and, perhaps most notably, bald eagles! To this day, the Quabbin Reservoir is still one of the largest drinking-water reservoirs in the world. It was a remarkable vision and feat of engineering.
And so, Boston water consumers, the next time you find yourself drinking local tap water, take a minute to appreciate the efforts that were made to deliver that wonderful water to you 🙂
Images courtesy of:
- Clif Read, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation