We know when we’re in crisis, such as the boil-order numerous communities of Metro Boston faced over the first weekend of May, that drinking water–not just the sudden lack of it–is something we should respect.
In Massachusetts, we just lost 65 million gallons of freshwater.
Southern California would probably pay about $15,000 for it, given the rates the state is paying to desalinate agricultural runoff in Arizona. (Mexico will actually receive the desalinated water when the project completes next month–California will get a bigger allocation of Colorado River water instead.)
While the Metro Boston boil order remains in effect today, the main line has been fixed and freshwater now flows from Weston as it did just a few days ago. Soon all the Dunkin Donuts will reopen and everyone will go back to their usual business.
The good news is that there have been no incidences of illness–officials said there was only the smallest chance because treated but untested pond water was being used to augment supplies during emergency rerouting. Good emergency planning.
The lesson is that in freshwater rich Massachusetts, we use our public supplies without care and with some better planning in terms of long-term supply, we can ensure a far more sustainable future with better planning and more localized water projects.
What freshwater we use and waste is sent for the most part into a giant sewer system that treats water to a very high quality that arid areas, such as the Southwest, habitually reuse as grey water (toilets, golf course irrigation water, etc..). Metro Boston’s used water is sent 10 miles out to sea. Statewide, we also cover the ground with surfaces that don’t allow rainwater to reach draining aquifers.
In sum, we’re dewatering Massachusetts.
When I first heard Charles Zimmerman of the Charles River Watershed Association explain this 10 years ago, with a nice map showing it, I saw the light and was forever changed in my understanding of water.
The general schematic of greater Boston’s tap water is below. The system consumes about 178 million gallons per day. When reservoir levels are at around 530 feet, there is a little more than double in the main reservoir.
With this recent boil order, I am reminded of the summer 2009 Gloucester boil order which lasted nearly 30 days. At the time numerous newspaper articles discussed citizen outrage at their water and sewer rates. There is a lot of infrastructure that needs fixing, and the situation made headlines for months.
Water is liquid gold and communities and municipalities–even in water rich Massachusetts–must explore better water management, i.e., rainwater sequestration, pervious surfaces, water reuse strategies, and decentralized systems that don’t require so much piping and costly transmission of water, to treat it as such.
Given populations, we can’t assume supplies will last forever and that we can go on using it as we do. While we have safe, reliable systems, they are extremely wasteful. We lose so much water that the International Water Association has a Water Loss Task Force that addresses best practices for reducing water loss from water distribution networks.
In a decentralized water system, freshwater is harvested locally, and more is captured. Water is also reused. There are smaller pipes, and therefore a lot less waste and risk of waste from rupture in such water systems.
Looks like the culprit of the break were some faulty bolts. Litigation to commence, see the latest news.