Quabbin & MWRA Water & Sewer

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,882
Reaction score
144
If you've never heard of the Quabbin Reservoir and how delightfully overbuilt it is, it might be time to read up.

As water prices have risen and water saving toilets have been implemented, Worcester-Boston metro has demanded less and less of the reservoir:


But "safe yield" is fairly arbitrary (as shown, the reservoir has put out sustained volumes above the "safe yield"), and actually, I once read that we've got something like 150 years (at old growth patterns) before we "ran out" of water. And high water prices have funded a new (redundant) and all the covered reservoirs inside I-495 and aqueduct (they're completing a final new supertank to buffer the daily "flush rush" behind the abandoned hospital in Melrose)

But if snowy winters and rainy springs are the new normal, maybe it is time to consider adding a hydropower component to the Quabbin (today, it is one of the largest in the world that's used for "just drinking" and isn't use for irrigation or hydropower)

It wasn't designed for "old school" hydropower (not enough head-height (water depth/pressure above the turbines) but there are plenty of generation styles that can use high-volume low-head flows.

At the same time, if we're preparing for drier summers and falls, that's another reason to raise the level/capacity of the Quabbin too--to store our winter snowpack and spring rains if we can't rely on "as you go" replenishment during the summer/fall.
 
Last edited:

bolehboleh

Active Member
Joined
Nov 28, 2011
Messages
384
Reaction score
0
It's a great place to go hiking, just not in the summer. Too many bugs.
 

WormtownNative

Active Member
Joined
Dec 7, 2014
Messages
347
Reaction score
5
Technically the Worcester area doesn't even draw from it, save for a few towns local to the Quabbin and the Wachusett. Worcester has it's own reservoirs, with capacity just above 8 billion gallons. We only have it for an emergency backup.

Map of MWRA service area - I find it particularly amusing they label Chicopee and Wilbraham as Central Mass. :rolleyes:

The hydropower idea could work - although you'd have to get it by DCR, which I doubt they'd let happen as then you'd have to put in fish ladders and everything else.

As an aside, it is amazing what is in the bottom of the Quabbin. PBS did an amazing documentary on what's down there. (Admittedly, it is a tad dated - it aired in 2001) If you have an hour, I highly recommend it.

http://video.wgby.org/video/2365046325/
 

Scalziand

Active Member
Joined
Sep 27, 2012
Messages
468
Reaction score
1
~120 ft of head ought to be enough, although I doubt the flow is going to be high enough to make t worthwhile.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,882
Reaction score
144
It's a great place to go hiking, just not in the summer. Too many bugs.
And not after midnight particularly if you're a group mostly from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Initial interpretations were that they were charmingly/infuriatingly ignorant of how the State Police might take seriously the wrong kind of visits to our water supply. Later FOIA requests said it might actually have been a criminal/pre-terrorist scouting trip.

The Quabbin is also so vast (412 Billion gallons) that if you did plan to contaminate it, it'd take 412 gallons to get to a part per billion, and a whole tanker truck (call it 4,000 to 12,000 gals) only gets you 10 to 30 parts per Billion.
 

WormtownNative

Active Member
Joined
Dec 7, 2014
Messages
347
Reaction score
5
And not after midnight particularly if you're a group mostly from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Initial interpretations were that they were charmingly/infuriatingly ignorant of how the State Police might take seriously the wrong kind of visits to our water supply. Later FOIA requests said it might actually have been a criminal/pre-terrorist scouting trip.
Well isn't that lovely....

The Quabbin is also so vast (412 Billion gallons) that if you did plan to contaminate it, it'd take 412 gallons to get to a part per billion, and a whole tanker truck (call it 4,000 to 12,000 gals) only gets you 10 to 30 parts per Billion.
That is the one thing the Quabbin has going for it. Where some systems cycle through in days or weeks, Quabbin cycles in years. Which is why all the crap that was left at the bottom (including lead pipes, horse hitches, etc.) doesn't pollute the water supply - even before the filtration plant in Marlboro.
 

FitchburgLine

Active Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2013
Messages
555
Reaction score
73
The MWRA did a study on hydropower (both existing and potential) several years back, with a presentation here:
http://www.mwra.state.ma.us/monthly/wscac/2013/100813-hydropower.pdf
However, with changes in the New England power markets since then (from a greater reliance on NG to retirement of Brayton point, mt. Tom, Salem power and Yankee power), it may be worth looking at again. In my town out in the burbs, there are several *very small* dams that would probably be suitable for hydro production with cooperative owners.

EDIT: Also, the fact the CA spends horrifying percentages of its energy pumping water up hills while we have so much drinking water (at such good elevations) we use it to generate electricity is almost too good to be true.
 

Matthew

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 3, 2012
Messages
3,585
Reaction score
0
EDIT: Also, the fact the CA spends horrifying percentages of its energy pumping water up hills while we have so much drinking water (at such good elevations) we use it to generate electricity is almost too good to be true.
Our really good water supply is one of the subtle benefits of living in Massachusetts, and Boston.

Not flashy, but crucial.
 

DBM

Active Member
Joined
Oct 28, 2012
Messages
690
Reaction score
19
Our really good water supply is one of the subtle benefits of living in Massachusetts, and Boston.

Not flashy, but crucial.
I lived in the desert southwest for six years. The Colorado Water system-derived tap water was completely saturated in disinfecting chemicals... it fizzed/precipitated-out when you poured it, like an Alka-Seltzer ad. Consequently, you had to always filter it before you felt comfortable drinking it. As opposed to here, where the tap water looks and tastes great.

Also, out there, there was always the nagging fear that the water would run out soon. I have many friends out there who I worry about--who in L.A. or SD or SF or LV or Phoenix or maybe even Denver really thinks their desert civilization can last another... 10... 15... 20 years?

Truly, we don't know how lucky we have it. Unless all those people become climate refugees and start swarming back northeastward!
 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
6,972
Reaction score
148
The MWRA did a study on hydropower (both existing and potential) several years back, with a presentation here:
http://www.mwra.state.ma.us/monthly/wscac/2013/100813-hydropower.pdf
However, with changes in the New England power markets since then (from a greater reliance on NG to retirement of Brayton point, mt. Tom, Salem power and Yankee power), it may be worth looking at again. In my town out in the burbs, there are several *very small* dams that would probably be suitable for hydro production with cooperative owners.

EDIT: Also, the fact the CA spends horrifying percentages of its energy pumping water up hills while we have so much drinking water (at such good elevations) we use it to generate electricity is almost too good to be true.
Fitchburg -- makes a lot more sense to redefine the MWRA and take for emergency reserve all the town wells still being used inside I-495 in exchange for water from the Quabin

The other thing that could be done with an expanded MWRA is to develop local waste water pre-treatment plants for the burbs which would discharge most of the water into the local streams and some recharge wells thereby insuring the protection of fresh water wetlands.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,882
Reaction score
144
^ I'd start with getting Cambride to give up its reservoir next to 128 and use that for restoration projects. As drinking water, Cambridge water tastes bad--kinda unique among the inside-128 cities--but would be fine for percolating into the ground or restoring a wetland.

I don't get why Cambridge thinks it's a good idea to drink highway runoff.
 

FitchburgLine

Active Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2013
Messages
555
Reaction score
73
I've heard some arguments basically coming down to Cambridge Exceptionalism, but I'm truly baffled why they insist on use of a reservoir directly adjacent to a giant light industrial zone while the neighboring towns get cheap clean water from a pristine forest. It could be a pipeline capacity issue, but with kGal/d down so far from its peak you'd expect to see a push for switching over.

BTW, in FY12 the MWRA generated 24Gwh of Hydroelectricity. That suggests more "small dam re-powering" projects could be a viable way to increase renewable penetration.
 

tangent

Senior Member
Joined
May 11, 2012
Messages
1,739
Reaction score
25
Water

With the Quabbin Reservoir at 85% capacity (a ten year low at least) and with many cities and towns around Boston in much worse shape during this latest drought, I thought it a good time to discuss our water supply and delivery and when we might need to cap regional growth, import water from the North, build new reservoirs, turn to large scale desalination, or all of the above.
 

BostonUrbEx

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2010
Messages
4,257
Reaction score
0
Re: Water

It doesn't really seem to be a major issue at present.

http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/08/how_do_drought_conditions_impa.html#0

Dips to 87% appear to be common. 85% is the lowest end of the "normal" range. Apparently 60% is the threshold for mandatory water restrictions and the reservoir has a 6-year supply with no rain.

Population in 2015 was 19% greater than in 1900, yet the water use was equivalent.

Economical desalination will probably be around by the time it would ever be an issue for us.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
5,354
Reaction score
159
Re: Water

With the Quabbin Reservoir at 85% capacity (a ten year low at least) and with many cities and towns around Boston in much worse shape during this latest drought, I thought it a good time to discuss our water supply and delivery and when we might need to cap regional growth, import water from the North, build new reservoirs, turn to large scale desalination, or all of the above.
We have backup reservoirs that are never used except in an emergency when supply from the Quabbin is disrupted. Sudbury Reservoir, Lake Cochituate, Chestnut Hill, and the others connected by the acqueducts are still maintained as backup supplies despite being taken offline 80 years ago as primary supplies by creation of the Quabbin. The only issue with those is that they are currently set up for emergency, not auxiliary, use and thus aren't treated. You may remember a couple years ago when that pipe main at Wachusett burst and the emergency supply had to be activated; the water stayed on, but it wasn't drinkable without boiling. Those sources would be fully usable in auxiliary capacity if they were hooked up to treatment facilities, but we're a long way away from needing to consider those measures.

---------
Re: severity of droughts. . .

We can't draw false equivalences between a New England drought and a California drought, because the causes and behavior are very different. California has the Sierra Nevada bedrock limiting the water absorption of local ground vs. New England glacial mush. So much of the West is terraformed desert without local aquifers, which is why there is so much reliance on a small handful of reservoirs for such vast distances around. Over-drawing the reservoirs is their primary cause of "The Water Wars", because areas of large population density don't have aquifers of their own.

Here snowmelt and small streams through the glacial mush gives pretty much everyone an aquifer that replenishes to *some* degree seasonally. Northern New England isn't in a drought at all right now, so we are getting some groundwater replenishment from a wide swath of Maine and northern New Hampshire + Vermont. It is not at replacement-level from what Massachusetts is actively losing to the drought, but it is at least a race of moving targets unlike Lake Mead where everyone's fucked if they overdraw the Colorado River watershed for a period of too many years. We have a much more geologically elastic water supply here.


The global weather patterns that cause droughts in the west aren't the same as the ones that cause them in the east. The wintertime El Niño/La Niña cycles have opposing effects on the Pacific Northwest vs. Southeast, and Southwest vs. Great Lakes. They usually only affect winter temperature, not precipitation, in the Northeast. It takes some very specific and rarer/less oft-repeating variations in those cyclical ocean patterns to move the winter drought map over New England and cut off the snowmelt or rain supply from the higher elevations. We had just that this past winter, but it's threading a fine line that statistically doesn't happen as often as an El Niño/La Niña cycle screwing the West/Upper Midwest/South with the wrong intensity at the wrong time. Climate change is of course going to make those more likely in the future, but climate change also plays the percentages. It's the El Niño/La Niña's that are going to get way more extreme first.

Over here our drought patterns tend to skew more to summer, not winter, as result of blocking high pressure ridges over Ontario and Quebec. That's what we've got right now: pockets of big drought west and east of Lake Champlaign with a lull in the middle, and the Upper Midwest soaked in more rain than it can handle because that's where all the cold fronts normally bound for here are getting blocked. It's bad, but the skew to summer makes the effects look worse than it really is because it's amplified by time of year when reservoir replenishment is at its lowest and lawns/gardens are growing at their fastest. It is not, however, the kind of structural deficit it'll take years and years to climb out of like the Cali drought unless we have a multi-year slate of dry winters. Dry winters are far worse for us than dry summers. We've only had one anomalous dry winter so far, so it's far from a pattern.



This is currently only the worst drought in 10 years...which is not saying very much because the 21st century so far has been pretty wet here. There were a couple during the 1980's that were much worse and coincided with multiple dry winters. The worst in recorded history was the mid-1960's Northeastern drought, which is ranked as a Top 5'er for the entire U.S. over the last 100 years. Yes...Top 5 on a list that includes the Dust Bowl and the 2010's Cali drought. Although a repeat of the 60's drought today would cause only a fraction of the economic damage, because that was the last time the Northeast was producing any economically significant agriculture.


Basically, it's far far from panic time. The biggest adjustment we have to make as a society is the one we've known about all along: stop dicking around and start caring about state-of-repair on those 19th century water mains that leak like a sieve. We lose more water from infrastructure that's 50 years past replacement date than we do from overconsumption or under-innovation on the supply side. Dead-unsexy infrastructure renewal grunt work...decades upon decades of it. Quit screwing around and git-'R-dun.

Also, the one place that is most vulnerable to a disruption in groundwater is the Cape, which has one aquifer and a majority of residents getting their potable water from wells (including some town-supply pipes that are just distributed from larger wells). Much greater pains need to be taken against contamination of the Cape Aquifer and leakage from any distributive pipes tapping directly into it. And if there's any place where some disaster modeling should occur, it's in what to do if a climate change event hits the Cape Aquifer so severely for a number of years that auxiliary supplies are necessary. But the Cape is the one exception in New England where if the local supply dries up, the people are fucked. Everywhere else has pretty robust auxiliary reserves.


Next, you're just taking the same jaundiced look at the sustainability of postwar sprawl-urbia. Not that we're anywhere near as bad as the West Coast here, but does the car-centric suburban office park that has its lawn sprinklers going all day have a sustainable future when that "greenspace" [four-letter word variety] isn't being used for anything? Go throw that on top of the pile of all the other sustainability questions about those piggishly anachronistic sites. And do it with commercial properties like that before fighting the fight with the homeowner in Sudbury who over-waters his lawn, because poor water use goes hand-in-hand with poor land use. It's all wrapped up in the same diminishing returns of sprawl.
 

tangent

Senior Member
Joined
May 11, 2012
Messages
1,739
Reaction score
25
Re: Water

Depends on your definition of "panic". If we are 20 to 30 years of population growth away from hitting some threshold of more frequent water scarcity then it is the right time to start talking about our water supply. Some communities are at 15% capacity on their reservoirs, so we are already seeing it in areas around Boston where they should halt development or need to expand capacity. Or connect to the MWRA which will accelerate the timeframe for MWRA communities.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
5,354
Reaction score
159
Re: Water

Depends on your definition of "panic". If we are 20 to 30 years of population growth away from hitting some threshold of more frequent water scarcity then it is the right time to start talking about our water supply. Some communities are at 15% capacity on their reservoirs, so we are already seeing it in areas around Boston where they should halt development or need to expand capacity. Or connect to the MWRA which will accelerate the timeframe for MWRA communities.
Well...then no time like the present to start that water main infrastructure renewal colossaproject to plug the leaks at the transmission source. At briskest non-disruptive speed that's a 30-year project right then and there.

This isn't as vexing an "everything is different now!" climate change concern for Greater Boston as sea level rise. We've known for a very long time what Pivot #1 is for water conservation, and it doesn't involve reservoir capacity. Just an asston of Dig Safe spraypaint and lifetime employment for several generations of cops directing traffic around backhoes digging up city streets all across the Commonwealth. Taming the transmission losses quite literally absorbs an entire additional generation of breakneck growth with no other zoning or construction best-practices tweaks on the conservation side.


I did a freelance project about a year ago for a technical education guide for the municipal pipe-fitting trade that involved transcribing recordings of focus groups from municipal buyers about dreadfully boring pipe adhesives technology. Despite it being more mind-numbing than watching paint dry I learned more than I ever cared to about that issue just listening to these guys talk shop for hours on my earphones. Each and every one of the focus group subjects, an expert in their fields, spent half their time talking about transmission losses from deferred maintenance being the #1-above-all-else problem for every potable water system in the country. And they all railed about the lack of funding for unsexy stuff like water main maintenance despite the lifetime savings from proper maintenance being countable in the billions and literally self-funding further replacements from the savings once initial replacements reach critical mass. Government does not and never has cared about all the leaky water mains from 1875 under millions of miles of city streets untill they either burst or wash away the substrate from decades of leaking and cause a giant sinkhole. It's a band-aid it and forget it society.

That's the be-all fix right there for all parts of the country that aren't Las Vegas-level fucked with water use unsustainability. Ditto all the leaky irrigation channels in the nation's breadbasket. It's all about boring-ass SGR grunt labor and the will to get on with doing it, not Jetsons Shit innovation or damming more river valleys on the capacity side.
 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
6,972
Reaction score
148
Re: Water

Well...then no time like the present to start that water main infrastructure renewal colossaproject to plug the leaks at the transmission source. At briskest non-disruptive speed that's a 30-year project right then and there.

This isn't as vexing an "everything is different now!" climate change concern for Greater Boston as sea level rise. We've known for a very long time what Pivot #1 is for water conservation, and it doesn't involve reservoir capacity. Just an asston of Dig Safe spraypaint and lifetime employment for several generations of cops directing traffic around backhoes digging up city streets all across the Commonwealth. Taming the transmission losses quite literally absorbs an entire additional generation of breakneck growth with no other zoning or construction best-practices tweaks on the conservation side.


I did a freelance project about a year ago for a technical education guide for the municipal pipe-fitting trade that involved transcribing recordings of focus groups from municipal buyers about dreadfully boring pipe adhesives technology. Despite it being more mind-numbing than watching paint dry I learned more than I ever cared to about that issue just listening to these guys talk shop for hours on my earphones. Each and every one of the focus group subjects, an expert in their fields, spent half their time talking about transmission losses from deferred maintenance being the #1-above-all-else problem for every potable water system in the country. And they all railed about the lack of funding for unsexy stuff like water main maintenance despite the lifetime savings from proper maintenance being countable in the billions and literally self-funding further replacements from the savings once initial replacements reach critical mass. Government does not and never has cared about all the leaky water mains from 1875 under millions of miles of city streets untill they either burst or wash away the substrate from decades of leaking and cause a giant sinkhole. It's a band-aid it and forget it society.

That's the be-all fix right there for all parts of the country that aren't Las Vegas-level fucked with water use unsustainability. Ditto all the leaky irrigation channels in the nation's breadbasket. It's all about boring-ass SGR grunt labor and the will to get on with doing it, not Jetsons Shit innovation or damming more river valleys on the capacity side.
F-Line -- I hate to admit it -- but you pretty much nailed this one to the deck with Ring Shanks

The only thing I'd offer is that I grew up during the 60's NE drought living in Greater Hartford where we had out own MDC and out own "Quabbin" [aka "Barkhamsted"] -- I remember going to the Hartford Reservoir with my father and being astonished on the immense flow from the Barkhamsted pipe. While the MWRA servers about 4 of 5 times what the Hartford MDC serves, Quabbin is way over 10X the capacity of Barkhamsted

Alao that the MWRA and its various customer communities have been aggressively reducing losses such that water consumption has actually decreased dramatically over the past 30 plus years of growth of the population of the MWRA District
1980 [peak usage era] 340 M gal / day
2015 currently uses 200 M gal / day ==== 2000 days to drain the Quabbin with no resupply

by the way the Treatment plant can supply up to 400 M Gal /day which would drain the Quabbin in about 3 years if there was no resupply


Summary of Boston & Hartford Water Supply [various sources]
Hartford MDC
Barkhamsted Reservoir. Total capacity, 36.8 billion US gallons (139,000,000 m3). Catchment area, 53.8 square miles (139 km2). Surface area, 4.2 square miles (11 km2).
System Throughput:
50 m g/day treatment

MWRA
The Quabbin Reservoir has an aggregate capacity of 412 billion US gallons (1,560 GL) and an area of 38.6 square miles (99.9 km²).

One reason MWRA reservoirs are so full is that water use efficiency in our region has dramatically decreased total water use from over 340 million gallons per day in 1980 to around 200 million gallons per day now.
 
Last edited:

Top