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April 27, 2024 15 mins
For generations, potable water from the Quabbin Reservoir has been enjoyed by residents in dozens of cities and towns in central and eastern Massachusetts. However, many communities that line the reservoir don't have access to this precious resource, and as a new study looks to expand the MWRA network, many Quabbin-area residents feel they're not getting proper recompense for providing this water to much of the Commonwealth. Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester) says it's time to change that. She joins Nichole on the show this week to talk about her new bill on Beacon Hill that she hopes will create more equity when it comes to water distribution from the Quabbin.
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(00:07):
From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each and
every week we come together here wetalk about all the topics important to you
and the place where you live.It's so good to be back with you
again this week. I'm Nicole Davis. Residents of western Massachusetts are very familiar
with the significant human costs their descendantshad to pay to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

(00:27):
It was back in the nineteen thirtieswhen four towns were completely leveled and
flooded. More than twenty five hundredpeople had to be displaced, and now
the Quabbin is the state's largest inlandbody of water. It provides clean,
potable drinking water every day to dozensof cities and towns through the Massachusetts Water
Resources Authority system that includes the cityof Boston. It's also a beautiful place

(00:48):
to visit, fish hunts, spendtime on the water, drive around,
you name it. However, thereservoir doesn't currently serve most of the communities
that neighbor it. For year,State Senator Joe Commerford has called for amen's
better equity when it comes to distributionof that precious water. There's a push
to expand the MWRAS service area.And now in response, Senator Comerford is
working on a bill on Beacon Hillto put the spotlight on the residents of

(01:11):
Western mass She has been on theshow before. She's back with us now
to talk about this. Senator,thank you so much for coming back.
So what is involved in this billthat you filed? So I filed a
bill along with Representative Aaron Saunders,and the bill has four provisions and I'll
say them really quickly and then talkabout the water in particular. One of

(01:32):
the provisions would be to increase Westernmass representation on the MWRA board. One
would be to adjust the pilot formula, that's the payment in lieu of taxes
formula. Right now, towns thatsteward this water don't get the benefit of
the land underneath the water. Andyet it used to belong to their towns

(01:53):
in many cases before it was takenby the state. So we only do
we only do the land surrounding thewater. The third is, we do
believe we need a community fund tobegin realizing just recompense for the water,
which we have not gotten ever inWestern Massachusetts. And then the fourth is

(02:14):
what you're asking about which is accessto the water. So right now,
as you likely know, the townsurrounding the quabb And. In fact,
virtually every other community that in thefour Western counties has no access to quabb

(02:34):
And water except for the town servedthrough something called the Chickapea aqueduct. And
that's a very small percentage of overallWestern Mass communities. So the bill says,
the bill we filed says, Okay, MWR, you're considering pushing more
of this water east. You haveto do a watershed study for the Connecticut

(03:00):
River basin, the Chickabee River basin, the Deerfield Watershed, and the Quabbin
and you have to figure out howthese communities get access or sustained access to
potable water. So it could beQuabbin water, but it also could be
other sources of water, because weare certainly awake to the fact that very

(03:22):
few of the communities we represent havepublic water systems right many have wells,
many have septic and so it wouldtake a monumental effort to build that entire
infrastructure. But there may be again, if we do a study findings where
there are some easier access points tosome of these watersheds that could be realized

(03:49):
for these communities, so they havea guarantee into the future of potable water
like the Quabbin is giving Eastern Massachusetts. Yeah, you talk about how Western
Massachusetts gives and gives in this regardbut really doesn't get anything back. Why
do you feel like this has notbeen a priority on Beacon Hill before?
Now, considering that the quabin hasbeen set up to be essentially the only

(04:10):
source for many communities in eastern andcentral mass for decades at this point,
absolutely, you know, absolutely so. About eighty six years ago this spring,
the four towns were disincorporated, andyou know for the eighty years before
that they were under threat of disincorporationessentially, right, so Prescott, Data

(04:30):
Greenwich, and Enfield basically had targetson their backs, which you know caused
great strain in these communities. Andwhy why it is that we have not
been able to achieve just recompense,you know, I think is very complex.
I think for many generations, youknow, Western Massachusetts has not felt

(04:51):
that we are seen, compensated,respected, engaged, served the commonwealth in
equitable ways. And you know,it's my turn to represent this beautiful district
which grew to twenty five cities andtowns and almost now circles the entirety of
the Quabbin. And I thought I'vehad it. I've had it. You

(05:15):
know, our trees breathed for thecommonwealth, Our farms are feeding the commonwealth.
Our tax dollars pay for the MBTAand the big dig and my goodness,
we're not going to give our waterall of it without a fight,
and I mean a real fight forrecognition and respect and some money. Yeah.
And talking about the money, Imean this bill you were talking about.

(05:35):
You are teaming up with Rep.Saunders out of Belcher Town to do
it in the House. But ifthis is past, this will put a
tax on quab And water and excisetax of sorts five cents for every thousand
gallons used. How did you comeup with that formula? We didn't want
it to be too big and wedidn't want it to be too small so
as not to be meaningful for theregion. It generates about, as you

(05:56):
know, three point five million dollars, which is really a pittance when you
think of all these communities out eastthat are able to develop businesses, develop
housing, expand economic and social opportunitybecause they have this thing that is more
valuable than we can ever imagine,right, which is water, potable,
pristine water. You know, itis really nothing when we think of that.

(06:20):
The other thing you should know isthat, you know, the MWAA
does a very good job at maintainingits business and you probably are tracking that
as it, you know, courtsnew communities to join the MWA system.
It's able to say, because ithas the financial ability to say it.
Oh, you know what, youdon't have to pay that five million dollars

(06:42):
joining fee. We got you.We got this covered. So we thought,
huh, if it's able to waivejoining fees for the communities out east,
certainly it can pay a very modestthree point five million dollars annually as
a starting point, plus adjusted pilotpayment for the communities directly abutting it.

(07:04):
And so we again, we thinkthis is small money compared to the enormity
of what the quabin provides, andso I have no problem at all asking
for it or demanding it however itis. And I you know, again,

(07:25):
I think this is a starting placefor Western mass to bargain because we've
we've been sending hundreds of millions ofgallons a day east and getting almost nothing
in return. And as a resultof sending this water east, not only
were these four towns disincorporated, andrail tracks you probably know this. There

(07:46):
was a north south rail called theRabbit Run It. There was an east
west artery that was not the MassPike but much more direct for most of
mass Western mass that was diverted east. There was a norths There was an
east west rail project from Northampton toBoston in the works that was canceled.

(08:07):
Thousands of buildings dismantled, you know, industry shuttered, and we've remained frozen
for these eighty five years because we'reprotecting a beautiful watershed. And I think
there's a lot of pride in WesternMassachusetts as you know, about our natural
environment and the work we're doing tostart, you know, Stewart this pristine

(08:30):
watershed and sequester carbon and grow foodand provide lots of opportunity for outdoor recreation
and wildlife habitat. All of thatare points of real pride. But you
can't fund a school budget on pride, and that takes state dollars and it
takes real respect for these communities.Work that is right now unseen and sacrifice

(08:52):
which is unseen well on Beacon Hill. You know, when you bring this
up to your cohorts there, whatis the response you're getting back, especially
from people from you know, mypart of the state, in eastern Massachusetts,
parts of central mass What is thereaction you've been getting so far?
Now, my colleagues are very generouswith their time in understanding this. You
know, I think it's a mix. I think some of them have certainly

(09:13):
thought about where their water comes from. If they're an MWA community, some
of them have. Some of them, you know, some of them said,
you know, wow, you know, I didn't know I'm drinking the
water that your town's steward. AndI think that's a great opportunity for me
to invite them out to Western Massachusettsif they'll come. I will say that

(09:33):
the Hilly Drisk Administration Secretary Tepper hasalready come, and she was joined by
members of her team, her eeateam, and we spent a morning on
the quab And and then an afternoonin New Salem learning the history and talking
with town officials about the impact ofthis decision and what it means for our
economic well being in Western Massachusetts.So I've appreciated the Heilly drisk administrations early

(10:00):
engagement. And I appreciate the factthat Secretary Tepper has instructed the MWA or
working with the MWA to do thispretty modest study that it's just announced that
we'll begin. Yeah, I reallyappreciate too that the light is being shined
essentially on the quab And I meanI recently, a couple of years ago,
took the hike out to Dana andsaw the foundations and looked around at

(10:24):
what's left in Dana. And it'salmost a heavy feeling that you get knowing
that people lived here, and peoplesacrificed and had to pick up and move
for the rest of us to thriveand live and benefit from the quabin.
And then I think about things likeclimate change. I think about expanding the
system. We're all going to needwater. What are you seeing when it

(10:46):
comes to plans to preserving the quabin and making sure that it can stay
as pristine and full and beautiful asit is? So really a beautiful question.
Let me just say that you wereright about the heaviness and the sorrow.
With Representative Susannah Whips, we workedwith good folks at DCR to open
up a gate near Orange so thata woman who was celebrating her one hundredth

(11:11):
birthday could go back to her familyhome. And the agony of that woman
as she approached the foundation was Ifelt as palpable as she must have felt
as a young person leaving her familyhome. And it was it was so

(11:33):
profound the loss that she has experienced. And since then, that was early
on in my tenure in the legislature, and since then I've met with many
people who trace their family back toone of the four towns and or tell
me stories about their family's economic hardshipwhen a business had to be you know,
couldn't couldn't be moved, and wasshuddered forever. So you're right that

(11:58):
what we experience here, besides theeconomic upheaval and the social upheaval of being
fractured essentially by this beautiful body ofwater and then being essentially frozen in our
economic state and unable to help ourselves, is matched by the remaining sadness that

(12:20):
these towns were lost and people lovedthem and they were proud about them,
and they went to school there,and they're dead were buried there. And
this was an enormous sacrifice for thecommonwealth. So in terms of protecting the
watershed, you know, I reallywant to say that I believe DCR does
a very good job. I amvery supportive of state funding for DCR.

(12:41):
I'm glad that the Healy Drisk administrationhas stepped up funding for DCR because I
do think it is essential the workthey're doing to protect the beauty of the
place, but also probably more importantfor everybody's sake, the pristine quality of
the water. You know. ButI will say the threats are everywhere.

(13:03):
You probably have heard the story ofthe Swift River School in New Salem,
just across the street from the Quabbin, and they found PFAT in the well.
Again, you know, you canalmost see if you stand on the
schoolrook, you can see the quabinthat they can't access the water of the

(13:24):
Quabbin, but they have p fasin their will. So p fas and
other contaminants are everywhere. And thatis it speaks to not only are our
communities out here experiencing that, andyet they don't have any resources to deal
with it, and they don't haveany access to this water that is so
coveted out east. But it speaksto why continued vigilance around the Quabbin is

(13:48):
so needed and why, of coursethe water is so coveted, Because the
future is all about water access inMassachusetts, I believed the world. Frankly.
I mean, there's all sorts ofand there's all sorts of discussions to
be had about that, But you'reyou're one hundred percent, you're spot on
on that, absolutely, yeap.By twenty fifty to twenty one hundred,

(14:11):
Probably the only thing we're going tobe talking about in Massachusetts' access to clean
water. And that's why, youknow, That's why I'm I believe the
state has a moral, ethical responsibilityto not only send this golden substance east,
but to consider the communities that surroundit and all the communities right now

(14:31):
not being served by it. Wehave to answer the question, which I
believe, is how are we goingto ensure that all commonwealth residents have equitable
access to clean water? And itmay not come from the Quabbin, but
don't we have a responsibility as acommonwealth to answer that question equitably? And

(14:52):
I believe we do all right,Senator Comerford. It's always incredible to have
you on the show. Thank youso much for your time and for the
education. Really appreciate it. Well, I really appreciate you and your interest
in this and if you ever wantto come to the quab and I'm happy
to host you here. You know, it is a transformative place in the
world, not only in Massachusetts,and something I think we can be proud

(15:16):
of. I think I just wantus to be a little prouder than we
are. Quobbin deserves all the love. It really toughs, all the love,
and the people who keep it cleandeserve all the love. Have a
safe and healthy weekend, and pleasejoin me again next week for another edition
of the show. I'm Nicole Davisfrom WBZ News Radio on iHeartRadio.
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