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Bill would compensate Quabbin watershed communities

The Quabbin Reservoir is the drinking water source for 53 municipalities in eastern Massachusetts including the city of Boston.
DCR Office of Watershed Management
The Quabbin Reservoir is the drinking water source for 53 municipalities in eastern Massachusetts including the city of Boston.

An excise would be charged to water users in eastern Massachusetts.

A bill being considered by the Massachusetts Legislature would compensate communities in western Massachusetts that steward the drinking water for millions of people in greater Boston.

The legislation, according to its sponsors, would promote regional equity and correct a historical wrong by providing payments to the communities that surround the Quabbin Reservoir.

“The communities that steward this land that hold this incredibly valuable resource receive absolutely nothing for the water that fundamentally built Boston and the surrounding area,” said State Rep. Aaron Saunders of Belchertown, the House sponsor of the bill.

It would establish an excise fee of 5 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water drawn from the Quabbin. He said this would generate an estimated $3.5 million annually that the local communities could spend on water infrastructure and nonprofits in the region could use for services such as transportation.

“The actual impact to ratepayers, based on Boston Water and Sewer numbers of an average residential household going through 41 gallons of water a day, that would equal six cents per month,” Saunders said. “I would hope (legislators) feel that six cents per month is not too high a price to pay for regional equity.”

The Quabbin – the largest inland body of water in the state – was created in the early 20th Century when four towns (Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott) were disincorporated and flooded. Six towns -- Belchertown, Hardwick, New Salem, Pelham, Petersham, and Ware -- border the reservoir.

Speaking at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, State Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton held up a glass of “Quabbin water.”

“You know who doesn’t have access to Quabbin water?” Comerford asked. “The Swift River Elementary school (in New Salem). Its well poised by PFAS. Its children, staff, and faculty drinking water from plastic bottles as Quabbin water flows east.”

She said 200 million gallons of water from the Quabbin are used daily by about 3 million people in eastern Massachusetts.

“The Quabbin Reservoir provides life for eastern Massachusetts, allows the eastern part of the state to grow and expand, and yet, for far too long, the recompense for the towns that steward this water has been a pittance relative to its value,” Comerford said.

There is a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program that requires compensation to communities with state-owned land for water protection. Comerford said the bill changes how the payments are calculated.

“For too long Massachusetts has taken from its four western counties – water and food – even as we maintain open space and reservoirs that sink carbon and breathe for us without fully grappling with the cost of maintaining these treasures,” Comerford said.

The bill also expands the board of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and requires that three of the 13 members reside in western Massachusetts.