Where the water comes from

Quabbin Reservoir

We took the scenic route out to Amherst to drop the kidlet off at school this weekend (2 to 202 to 9), but instead of heading straight there, once we got to Rte. 9, we headed east for a couple miles to check out our main source of water, the Quabbin Reservoir.

There are a number of places where you can view one of the largest drinking-water reservoirs in the country; we went for the easiest to access - the visitor center off Rte. 9 in Belchertown. The visitor center (which doubles as the MWRA's Quabbin offices and a State Police barracks) has all the basics you need to know about the history of an increasingly thirsty Boston, the reservoir's creation and the towns it ended. And then you get to walk along the top of the Winsor Dam, from which you get a nice vista of the reservoir (and from which you can ponder the fact that the view is only of a very small part of the 38.6-square mile reservoir).

The state's no longer in an official drought and the Quabbin's full of water, but at the end of the summer, naturally it's not 100% full:

Quabbin: Water

Don't think of going for a swim in the Quabbin (the DCR does allow some limited boating, although not from the visitor center, where the only boats allowed in are owned by the MWRA and the DCR, which use them to scare away gulls, when not recovering parts of drones that fall in, which is one reason the state normally doesn't allow drone flights over the water):

Quabbin: No trespassing

The Winsor Dam, which holds in one of the two main parts of the reservoir, is named for the engineer who oversaw its construction (although he died before it was completed) and is one of the largest dams in the eastern US (in the 1930s, the state tried a flock of sheep to keep it mowed; but even with the money from their wool, the sheep turned out to be not very economical):

Quabbin: Grass dam

There's a marker at the far end of the dam, but you can keep going on an extensive trail system (if you keep going into the woods, you can see the spillway used to keep the Swift River flowing towards the Connecticut with daily releases of at least 20 million gallons of water - a condition of the permit signed by the Secretary of War back in the day, after the state of Connecticut threatened to sue over the loss of water):

Quabbin: Marker

If you can take your eyes away from the water or the fields and trees 170 feet down on the grassy side, you can spot some interesting stones in the walls that line the top of the dam:

Quabbin: Stone

Until a fire in 1990, a hydroelectric station generated electricity (there are still functioning hydroelectric generators at the Wachusett Reservoir, where Quabbin water flows before heading to Boston):

Quabbin: Stone

The visitor center and surrounding lands are a "take in, take out" facility - you're supposed to bring out everything you brought in, but based on the men's room (which overlooks the reservoir), not everybody comprehends that idea:

Quabbin: Trash

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Comments

Thanks for this!

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Thanks for this!

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Quabbin

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Thanks Adam for the pics. Hope your kid has a successful school year.

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Congrats!

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Didn't realize the kidlet was off to college this year - UMass, I assume? It's a great place - I should know, I graduated from there!

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UMass.

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UMass.

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Cool!

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What's Greta going to be studying/majoring in at U/Mass? Just curious. Congratulations and all the best of luck to her.

Btw, my brother transferred to U/Mass-Amherst from the University of Chicago, majoring in journalism.
It's a good school.

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Thanks

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While playing golf last week on CC a few questions were asked about Quabbin when talking about Texas floods.
I didn't know and they were all out of staters. Now I know and they will also when I email them

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Beautiful pictures

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Thanks for the beautiful and informative post - hope writing it helps take your mind off returning to a kidlet-less house. Congratulations to her and to you, with best wishes for a successful launch into her next life stage!

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Thanks for the kind words

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We got used to the missing-kidness last year, but, well, then she came home for the summer and I guess we do it all again.

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Thanks MWRA

I hope you all appreciate the foresight and sacrifice it took to build this water system: reservoir, pipes, and all. Because it would not get done today. Many, many other cities did not have the planning chops to do something similar, and if you travel the country and taste the local tap waters you will come to treasure the gift we have here in the greater Boston area.

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Not just quality

Quantity!

As in "six to eight years of water for the area".

That's with all the other major cities that run dry in two years in the mix!

By comparison, NYC's water supply system has only 1.5x the capacity for 5x as many people. In the drought of 1998-9, NYC was only miraculously saved by Hurricane Floyd!

The MWRA is by far one of the most resilient systems on the planet.

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Ayup

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And one of the reasons is not just the volume of water (if things did get rough, the MWRA has some musty, dusty plans somewhere to try to divert some of the Connecticut directly) but the fact that the MWRA simply has to pump so much less water than the MDC did because of major leak-elimination programs - from well over 300 million gallons a day on average in 1985 to about 200 million today. So the MWRA has actually added a few communities in recent years (which is a pain right now for people who drive through Stony Brook Reservation because of the new main going in from West Roxbury to Westwood and Dedham).

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2-202-9

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It's really the way to get to Amherst. The Pike has a ton of traffic, the last few miles are slow, and you have to pay tolls. Also, on a lot of weekends you wind up sitting in half an hour of mind-numbing traffic getting to Sturbridge. Route 2 only adds a couple minutes, and I find is a much more pleasant drive that doesn't have trucks passing you at 80 mph.

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No need to go all the way to 9

2 to 202 to Prescott Road (if you like to slalom) or to Amherst Road to Pelham Rd. (repaved in the last year).

I took the tamer Amherst road route yesterday with the full load and nasty weather.

But that works best if you live North of the city. From The UHub Nuze Lair in Rossie, the pike is the best choice (even when Tree House is closed ;) )

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Not too bad

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The slow part for us is just getting to 128; once we're there, 2 is only a few minutes past the turnpike exit (we did take the pike back, was fine except around Sturbridge). And, yeah, we would've gone down Amherst Road, except we wanted to see the Quabbin.

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Disagree

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Pike to Palmer then up through Palmer and Belchertown is better and faster than Rt 2 from this side of the city.

Go to the Montague Bookmill next time you go Rt 2 BTW.

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Agree on the Bookmill, disagree on the Pike

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The Pike can get awfully sticky east of Sturbridge. It's just really unpredictable. Note that if you get on the Pike and it appears to not be working out, bailing at 495 or Auburn (to go up to 190) is not a bad way to go.

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It's been a bunch of years,

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It's been a bunch of years, but in my experience the Pike route via Belchertown was always a gigantic mess on UMass move-in day. 2 to 202 to Pelham Rd had very little traffic and was much prettier (and 202 is a fun drive).

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Foul Weather Route

Don't know if you remember last Thanksgiving, but I was bringing the boy back to campus last year when I realized that it was raining and the temperature was about to drop under freezing.

I skipped the mountain route and went long into the valley, where it stayed barely above freezing. Took 2 all the way to I-91, looping back into campus on 5 and 116.

A friend who lives in Amherst told me that it was a good call - ice and inexperienced drivers led to some accidents that night.

Pike to 91 works in that circumstance, too.

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Pelham Rd is also great fun

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Pelham Rd is also great fun on a bike, going down that is. When I was at UMass I had a favorite bike route through Leverett and Shutesbury that brought me to the top of Pelham Rd. Wheeee!

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Our water is really good

You people are fawning about how good Boston water is but the reason is because of those flooded towns, what comes out of the tap here tastes like the tears of the dispossessed. You people are heartless.

/s

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Think of the four towns whenever you have a glass of water.

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Greenwich (not pronounced "gren-ich"), Dana, and Enfield were disincorporated and flooded. Prescott, while not flooded, was also disincorporated. Parts of Dana are accessible and the town common still exists as a ruin a few miles in off the main road. Most of Prescott occupied what is now the Prescott Peninsula, much of the original townsite is still there (sans buildings), but it has been off limits to the general public as a wilderness since the reservoir was flooded.

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Part of Pelham, too.

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Part of Pelham, too.

If we had UHub back then, Adam could've done a riff on The Taking of Pelham 123 for the headline.

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True..

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Except Pelham wasn't disincorporated and that town continues to exist to this day. A very small portion of that town was flooded and its bounds weren't changed (its boundary with Prescott was the Swift River and remains in the same place, except under more water today than pre-1938), save for the portion of the former town of Enfield that was annexed onto Pelham when it ceased to exist as a municipal corporation (though, for history's sake, it would have been more just to annex part of Prescott onto Pelham after disincorporation, since half of that town was carved out of Pelham (the other half came from New Salem, which annexed Prescott almost in its entirety after disincorporation)).

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Well, I'm busy this weekend

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Well, I'm busy this weekend but next weekend I'm free and if you want we can go out and take some bearings and measure it all out to the last perch and put out some stakes & ribbons.

...but really, "Part of Pelham, too" was sufficiently descriptive.

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People who talk about "you people"

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You people are fawning about how good Boston water is but the reason is because of those flooded towns, what comes out of the tap here tastes like the tears of the dispossessed. You people are heartless.

And you, of course, do not partake in said water. Or perhaps you simply flagellate yourself every time you do, and then douse your lacerated back with the "tears of the dispossessed". Pardon me if I hold off on awarding you the Oscar for best drama.

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A few thousand people?

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More like a couple of hundred - which is why they went for it.

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Indeed

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Safe water for millions >>>> displacement of hundreds

Think of it this way: without that water, Boston could not have taken in a hundred thousand or more people for the war effort, could not have serviced ships for the war, etc.

This whole set up was actually designed before 1900. They put it off as long as they could.

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I think that was meant as sarcasm?

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It is true that a lot of WMass/EMass resentment originated with the eminent domain disincorporation of the four towns. (Insider note: the first four dorms at Hampshire College are named for the four towns.) Western Mass, not unlike the independent-minded former-part-of-Massachusetts to the Northeast, cultivates a certain prickly independent streak. But these days the role the Quabbin plays is much more geographic; it makes driving anywhere west of Worcester a bit of a pain (because you have to go north of it or south of it). If you want the break point between western and eastern MA, the Quabbin is it.

We don't need to feel guilty about those towns but it doesn't hurt to understand the viewpoint of the other (geographic) half of the state. They haven't forgotten the Quabbin; we shouldn't either.

Also, the old roads in the reservation make for some awesome runs. I used to be able to go two hours in there without seeing another person, and (obviously) no cars.

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If you're interested in the

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If you're interested in the history of Boston's water supply but don't want to/can't make it all the way out to the Quabbin, the Waterworks museum next to Chestnut Hill Reservoir is T-accessible and also an interesting place to visit.

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You do realize the state abandoned that idea?

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Right?

In any case, we did see a groundhog, some weasel-like thing (otter, maybe?) and some rabbits. And this was right in front of the visitor center, basically. Which knows what we would've seen in the woods.

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