Two hundred million. That’s how many gallons of water the Quabbin Reservoir sends each day to meet the needs of 3 million people living in metro Boston. The water leaves through an aqueduct called “Shaft 12.”
Last week, my Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester team spent the day in the Quabbin Reservoir watershed with Department of Conservation and Recreation rangers and Pelham constituents who are experts in biodiversity, water quality, and forest and watershed health.
The Quabbin — 412 billion gallons when full — is fed by the Swift and Ware rivers and many other tributaries. It’s protected by a 120,000-acre watershed, of which the state owns 60,000 acres. The land has been home to Indigenous communities for millennia, the name “Quabbin” from the Nipmuc and aptly meaning place or meeting of many waters.
In the 1920s, as state engineers pushed west looking for sufficient potable water for the greater Boston region, their search landed them in the Swift River Valley, then home to the people of four towns — Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. By 1938, these towns were disincorporated and the land either sold or taken by eminent domain as the Quabbin began to fill.
The Quabbin’s water will only remain as pristine as the health of its surrounding watershed. Researchers have found that water entering the Quabbin through tributaries is around 50 years old, having fallen decades ago and then cleaned underground, through the forests and fields, before spilling into the reservoir. And even as it scrubs the water clean, these surrounding forests, fields, and river beds are also sequestering unparalleled amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and locking it away in wood and dirt.
The Quabbin watershed is what I think of as “working land.” The world’s top climate scientists have been clear that we are headed over a climate-cliff unless we reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. That means we can’t just curtail CO2 emissions (but we must do that as well!), we must actively take the CO2 that we have already emitted out of our atmosphere. That’s just what the trees and soil in the Quabbin watershed are doing for us every day.
As more and more sources of drinking water are found to be contaminated with a group of chemicals known as PFAS, and with the Connecticut River recognized as this country’s first National Blueway, we are reminded every day that we need to work for these lands, just like they are working for us.
Should the proposed legislative redistricted map prevail, the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester Senate district will represent seven of the 12 towns in the Quabbin watershed, adding Athol and Petersham to New Salem, Orange, Pelham, Shutesbury and Wendell, so I felt it was important to bring my entire staff to the Quabbin to learn, to walk through its forests, breathe the sweet air, and get some western Massachusetts mud on our boots.
Back in May, I wrote a blog titled “Seven things to know about redistricting,” where I noted that redistricting is not a spectator sport, especially as we navigated population loss in our region. I wasn’t kidding.
Once every decade, the U.S. takes a census — a count — of the people living in the nation. That count drives another once-a-decade process: Redistricting. By now you may know that western Massachusetts will retain the number of state senators we currently have representing the four western counties. This was not guaranteed going into this process given the population loss experienced by the western part of the commonwealth in relation to the population gain experienced by the eastern part.
I’ve been delighted to join forces with tremendous western Massachusetts Senate colleagues and fight to retain our full representation in the Senate, with a special nod to Sen. Anne Gobi, Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Redistricting, who led our region in this process.
All western Massachusetts state Senate districts had to increase population and to do it, all districts had to push east. As a result, this district is proposed to lose three towns in Franklin and Hampshire Counties as it picks up four in Worcester County.
While I’m proud that we were able to preserve representation for our region, this process led to many changes. And change, coupled with loss, is hard. Said plainly, I’m sad that this district loses the beautiful communities of Colrain, Whately and South Hadley. I have been deeply honored to represent these municipalities and work alongside their dedicated municipal officials and residents. I’m also excited at the prospect of representing Athol, Petersham, Winchendon and Ashburnham.
The Senate votes on our map today, Oct. 27, but it’s important to note that the new map will not take effect until the next legislative session beginning in 2023, before which all members of the state Senate will need to seek reelection in their newly-drawn districts. Maps and information can be found here: https://malegislature.gov/redistricting.
With regard to our Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, we’re expanding to not only encompass the majestic Connecticut River, but now most of the Quabbin Reservoir. It’s crucial that we have a comprehensive understanding of these bodies of water, the surrounding natural lands, and what’s needed to protect them. After all, what we invest now will not only affect our health, but the health and well-being of people well into the future.
Equally important: Regional equity once again comes into stark relief as our region stewards Boston’s drinking water and breathes for the commonwealth. It’s beyond time we were fairly compensated for both.
State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.