In The People's Blog

On October 2, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary, Rebecca Tepper, and her team joined Representative Aaron Saunders, Senator Jake Oliveira, and me for a tour of the Quabbin Reservoir and a meeting about H. 897 / S. 447  – An Act Relative to the Quabbin Watershed and Regional Equity which seeks recompense for the Swift River Valley and its people.

Below is a brief history of the region, the decision to flood the valley, the consequences, and a summary of the bill that can begin repaying the debt owed:

About the Swift River Valley and the Quabbin Reservoir 

  • Long before colonists arrived, the Swift River Valley was home to the Nipmuc (an Algonquin word meaning “freshwater people”). They called the Swift River Valley “Qaben” – meaning “place of many waters.” Plagues and war decimated the Nipmuc, as they did neighboring Massachusetts, Pequot, Pocumtac, and Wampanoag Tribes.
  • Beginning in 1732, the Massachusetts legislature began giving land grants to settlers who fought against Indigenous tribes and they began settling the Swift River Valley in the 1740s. 
    • 3,400 people lived in the valley’s four towns (Dana, Greenwich, Enfield, and Prescott) in 1850 and over 2,400 still lived there in 1922 when the Quabbin Reservoir project was confirmed. Conversations about the possible land taking had a chilling effect causing the population decline.
  • The Quabbin Reservoir project was confirmed in 1922 but legislation to flood the Swift River Valley was not passed in 1927. The deadline for leaving/removal was 1938, but the clearing of the land began much sooner.
    • Residents were offered money by the state for their properties. If they didn’t accept, it would be taken by eminent domain. 
      • There were no job or housing relocation programs. 
      • Businesses received no compensation.
    • Everything was cleared from the land. All buildings were destroyed or relocated. Graves were relocated. 
  • On April 27, 1938 Dana, Greenwich, Enfield, and Prescott were disincorporated. 
  • The project was completed in 1946.
    • The reservoir began filling with water in 1939. When full, it contains 412 billion gallons of water.
    • Between 200 and 250 million gallons of water leave the Quabbin Reservoir every day to head east.
    • What was removed during the construction?
      • 1,100 structures, 650 of which were homes
      • 34 cemeteries containing 7,613 graves exhumed
      • 31 ½ miles of railroad tracks 
      • 36 miles of highway (the Rabbit Road with 19 stops) were relocated and 242 miles were abandoned. 
  • Who stewards the class A water?
    • DCR’s Division of Water Supply Protection, Office of Watershed Management (DWSP) manages and protects the Quabbin Reservoir.
    • The people of Pelham, Shutesbury, Wendell, New Salem, Athol, Petersham, Hardwick, Ware, and Belchertown also play a role. 
    • The Quabbin Reservoir has a 119,940 acre watershed, including the reservoir’s surface area, more than half of the watershed is publicly owned and/or preserved.

Who has access to Quabbin water

  • The people of Chicopee, Wilbraham, and South Hadley, and approximately 47 towns in the Boston area, totaling approximately three million people. 

Who does not have access to the Quabbin water: 

  • Every other community in the Commonwealth, including the watershed communities.
    • 1980, Amherst runs out of water and the University of Massachusetts Amherst has to evacuate. UMass is eight miles from the Quabbin Reservoir. 
    • Early 2021, Swift River Elementary School discovers PFAS levels double the level of what is considered a safe standard of drinking water in the state. The school is an 8-minute drive from the Quabbin Reservoir. 

Bill Summary for H. 897 / S. 447  – An Act Relative to the Quabbin Watershed and Regional Equity:

Section 1 establishes the Quabbin Host Community Development Trust Fund, a separate fund for the municipal service, public safety, and development needs of the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed Communities. At least 70% of the fund’s expenditures will go to the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed Communities for municipal operations and capital improvements. Also, up to 25% of the fund’s expenditures will go to non-profit organizations, including tribal entities, directly serving the health, welfare, safety, and transit needs of the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed Communities, Connecticut River Basin communities, and Chicopee River Basin communities.

Section 2 requires that the PILOT payments paid in lieu of taxes to towns that contain watershed lands of the Quabbin Reservation which were included in the former towns of Dana, Greenwich, Enfield, and Prescott be based on the total acreage of state land in each community, rather than only on the lands above the high water mark as in current law.

Section 3 instructs the Department of Conservation and Recreation to collect from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) 5 cents for every 1000 gallons drawn from the Quabbin Reservoir. The revenues generated will go to the Quabbin Host Community Development Trust Fund. This is expected to raise approximately $3.5 million for the fund.

Section 4 increases to three the number of members of the MWRA Board of Directors who are residents of a Connecticut River Basin community who represent land and water resources protection interests. Currently, there is one member from those communities on the Board.

Section 5 limits members of the MWRA Board of Directors to serving at most 12 years, excluding the secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Section 6 instructs the MWRA to complete a Water System Expansion Evaluation of the Westfield River Basin communities, Chicopee River Basin communities, Connecticut River Basin communities and Millers River Basin by December 31, 2023. The evaluations must be consistent with the similar evaluation of the Ipswich River Basin from October, 2022. The section specifies that the state Water Resources Commission may not approve any interbasin transfer of water from the Quabbin Reservoir until the evaluation has been completed. The evaluation will be made publicly available on the MWRA website.


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