The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s (MWRA) Board of Directors reviewed the results of two studies on the feasibility of adding additional communities to the north and south of the agency’s water system. Both studies conceptually identify that the MWRA could provide the full water demands to both study areas. Importantly, in order to fully supply both study areas, large diameter pipelines would have to be built extending from the MWRA’s existing metropolitan tunnel system. Partial supplies to supplement existing community sources could also be provided through the extension of MWRA’s existing distribution system. The northern study focused on communities that currently draw water from the long-stressed Ipswich River Basin, which includes Beverly, Danvers, Hamilton, Ipswich, Middleton, Lynn, Lynnfield Center Water District, Peabody, Salem, Topsfield, Wenham, and Wilmington. Additionally, the South Shore study focused on the communities of Abington, Avon, Brockton, Cohasset, Hanover, Hingham, Norwell, Scituate, Rockland, Weymouth, and the former Naval Air Station.
“The MWRA’s water supply system is a tremendous asset to the Commonwealth, which provides safe, clean drinking water from the Quabbin and Wachusett Watersheds for over 2.5 million people,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card, who chairs the MWRA’s Board of Directors. “Importantly, these north and south studies have identified that the agency has ample capacity to serve additional communities by supplying drinking water from its system without jeopardizing these important resources.”
“The MWRA has always been a vital asset in the Commonwealth’s effort to ensure access to clean, safe drinking water for all residents,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “These studies confirm the MWRA’s untapped potential to expand into additional communities, which will fuel economic development and offer an alternative source of water for communities impacted by PFAS chemical contamination.”
“Water sustainability and aquifer protection are critical issues for communities all across our state, and the MWRA has the potential to support those goals in many case,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “On the North Shore we are having unprecedented conversations about how to best move forward collaboratively to address the region’s needs, and the information contained in the report will be incredibly useful and important for our efforts.”
With the MWRA’s vast reservoir system, the agency can safely provide up to 300 million gallons per day (MGD) of high-quality drinking water, and since its creation in 1985, MWRA and its customers have reduced usage from nearly 350 MGD to an average 200 MGD today, leaving room for expansion. In addition to the north and south study areas, the MWRA is also exploring the possibility of expanding the water system to a number of Metro West communities, including Acton, Bedford, Chelmsford, Concord, Groton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Lincoln, Littleton, Maynard, Natick, Sudbury, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston.
“This regional approach to addressing growing statewide water woes is the right solution at the right time,” said Joseph Favaloro, Executive Director of the MWRA Advisory Board. “In addition to the public health and environmental benefits, expansion of the MWRA’s water system can generate economic development and create rate relief for existing MWRA communities by spreading costs over a larger base. Truly a win on many levels and a public policy homerun.”
While the water demands for all three study areas would exceed MWRA’s available water, MWRA could supply water to a significant portion of these communities if there is interest. Coupled with these studies, the MWRA and its Advisory Board recently voted to waive the entrance fee for new communities joining the system for a period of five years in order to encourage new communities to join, citing the challenges communities face, such as stressed river basins requiring water restrictions, rising concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and constrained economic development. The benefit to existing member communities would be a reduction in their assessments each time a new community joins the system.
“We are available to help communities looking for a solution to their drinking water supply needs,” said MWRA Executive Director Fred Laskey. “We hope these studies help communities understand that MWRA is an option for them and we look forward to working with any community who would like to pursue a connection to our water system.”
Furthermore, several communities have joined the MWRA water system over the last 35 years, including Ashland, Bedford, Burlington, Dedham-Westwood, Reading, Stoughton, and Wilmington. Despite the additional customers, water usage has continued to decline across the service area.