State needs safe drinking water improvements

May 14, 2010
By

People from all over Boston came to Jamaica Plain on May 1 for the Wake up the Earth Festival. Our neighborhood shined as people of all ages enjoyed the performers, the food and a beautiful day. Unfortunately, the day took on a decidedly different feel when an officer from the Boston Police Department took to the stage at about 6 in the evening to announce the water main break and the boil water order. Though the crowd took it in stride, the announcement brought the fragility of our water infrastructure to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Disasters such as this are not supposed to happen in Massachusetts. We are the enlightened “city on a hill.” Surely we have invested in our essential infrastructure like water—right? We simply have not. The United States Department of Environmental Protection estimates there is almost $7 billion needed in spending in the Commonwealth over the next 20 years in order to improve access to and safety of drinking water.

The catastrophic break of a 7-year-old pipe should not have happened. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has already announced he will ensure hearings are held to help determine the cause of the water main rupture, which can help us to prevent similar breaks. But we must also have a clear long-term plan for delivering safe and clean water to residents throughout the Commonwealth.

Two years ago, I sponsored and successfully got passed a law that created the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, which is aimed at developing a long-term financing plan for ensuring safe drinking water and securing waste water systems throughout the state. This commission is holding its first meeting this month and will provide recommendations to the Legislature on how to pay for badly needed upgrades.

When I sponsored the bill, I had the honor of serving as the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technology. The bill and the issue were about economic development. We simply cannot grow, projects cannot be built, and jobs cannot be created, without access to clean water. Now, as the chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, I also see this as a public health issue. Our hospitals need clean water to care for patients, and our residents need clean water so we don’t get sick. But most immediately, earlier this month, I saw the issue as a parent, as my wife and I boiled water for our children to drink and use to brush their teeth.

I hope this crisis will help us focus on this issue with more clarity. We have experienced more than our fair share of water main breaks in pipes that are more than a century old. If we don’t take seriously the need to invest in our water infrastructure, we will continue to have water interruptions, maybe not as widespread as a couple of weeks ago, but possibly more severe, where our neighborhood could be threatened by a complete lack of water if a water main breaks in the neighborhood.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez
Jamaica Plain