State Officials Announce Water Emergency

Mass. Environmental Policymakers Call on Families to Conserve

BOSTON--Massachusetts families must conserve water, Environmental Secretary John DeVillars said as he and other state officials formally announced a water emergency for Boston and 43 other communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA).

"It's going to take more than a few rain showers like we had this week to solve this problem," DeVillars said yesterday at a news conference. "In fact, we could have more than a half dozen blizzards like we had in '78, and we'd still have a very worrisome situation."

The MWRA, along with the Department of Environmental Quality Engineering (DEQE) and the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), announced the emergency in light of the season's unusually low precipitation and the low water level at the Quabbin Reservoir, which provides water for 2.5 million people in the area.

Cambridge has used the Quabbin Reservoir for back-up water supply since 1949.

"We must begin now to limit our water use, or we'll be in serious trouble this summer," DeVillars said.

DEQE Commissioner Daniel Greenbaum said the communities involved have 30 days to draw up a contingency plan to outline how they want to deal with any possible reduction in water availability this summer. The MWRA and the MDC are to come up with similar plans within 45 days.

The average Massachusetts household uses approximately 60 gallons of water each day, according to MWRA Executive Director Paul Levy. A 10 percent reduction in water use would be easily accomplished through simple measures.

Levy stressed the need to attend to household problems that cause water waste, such as fixing leaky faucets and pipes, limiting toilet use and cutting back on garden watering.

Levy also unveiled a public service announcement on water conservation featuring Boston Celtic Robert Parish that has been made available to local television stations.

DeVillars said Quabbin, the largest reservoir in the Northeast, is usually at 81 percent capacity and is down this year to 68 percent. It is at its lowest level since March 1967, when it fell to 45 percent. The last water emergency was declared when the reservoir's level was 65 percent in 1965, the beginning of a four-year drought, according to MDC records.

MDC Commissioner William Geary warned that the low level in the reservoir could hurt the quality of drinking water.

"When the level goes down, you begin to get into an aesthetic situation, the clarity of the water," Geary said. "Below that you get to health and safety situations."

Greenbaum added that the water quality drops in three steps as the level declines. First, sand and sediments at the bottom of the reservoir mix, causing tap water to appear dirty. Also, as the water gets shallower, its temperature rises, meaning bacteria have a better chance to survive.

Thirdly, the sediments could possibly contain metals that are not ordinarily found in the upper levels of the reservoir, Greenbaum said.

DeVillars said both he and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis would work for the passage of watershed protection bills sponsored by Sen. Carol Amick (D-Bedford) and Rep. David Cohen (D-Newton).

That legislation would regulate land development near the state's three main water sources--the Quabbin and Wachusetts reservoirs and the Ware River, said David Barrenberg, an aide to Cohen. Cohen's bill calls for regulation of land use within 400 feet of any major tributaries.