Evidence of Drought Is Everywhere, But Regional Water Supply Unfazed

Bedford artist Sing Hanson created an homage to the four towns that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir: Enfield, Greenwich, Dana, and Prescott ~ Image, JMcCT (c) 2022 all rights reserved ~ Click to view the full-size image


In Hanson’s homage, water from the four towns flooded to create the Quabbin drips into a bucket below ~ Image, JMcCT (c) 2022 1ll rights reserved

Is this what they mean by cognitive dissonance?

Bedford lawns are desiccated. Small streams are dry. Mulch is igniting. Loam is more like sand.

Meanwhile, about 75 miles to the west, the Quabbin Reservoir, the water supply source for Bedford and 46 other cities and towns in metropolitan Boston, is less than seven percent off maximum capacity, which is 412 billion gallons.

And thus in Bedford, along with the rest of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority district, there are no water use restrictions.

Since July 1, according to the Weather Underground collection point at Hanscom Air Force Base, local rainfall has not reached two-and-a-half inches.

Bedford’s conservation administrator, Jeffrey Summers, pointed out that according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Bedford is in the “Level 3 – Critical Drought” area.

He shared a press release from the Department of Environmental Protection that read in part, “it is incredibly important that we all practice water conservation and adhere to local requirements and recommendations in order avoid over-stressing our water resources… Efforts to minimize water usage now will help our water systems to rebound more quickly, and ensure that essential public health, safety, and environmental needs continue to be met.”

The same announcement also reported, “The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority water supply system is not experiencing drought conditions.”

“We haven’t had to request any limitations for water use. In that sense we’ve been fortunate,” acknowledged Department of Public Works Director David Manugian. “Irrigation use has certainly been up.”

“We’re so lucky” to be a member of the metropolitan system, said Jamie Lewis, who owns Extreme Landscaping. “Towns around us are on shutdowns or serious restrictions.”

“I sent a letter to my customers and said, ‘Make sure you have a hose and a good sprinkler and run it in different areas of your property two or three hours or more, a deep soaking to get the tree roots, the shrubs – I’m not even talking about the lawns,” Lewis said.

Ralph Hammond, a longtime member of the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council, said this week he has seen Bedford’s primary rivers lower than they are now. One reason, he pointed out, is that the MWRA can influence the flow of the Sudbury River – and by extension the Concord River — by strategic releasing water from a dam in Framingham.

He explained, “The Concord River is charged by the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers and because they are part of the SUASCO Wild and Scenic River System approved by the federal government, to protect the riparian habitat and life within the river itself, there is agreement with MWRA to maintain a minimum volume and flow if the reservoirs at  Framingham allow.”

Hammond also noted, “The Shawsheen in my back yard is low but not abnormally low. There is still water flowing over the ledge which is about 200 yards downstream from my house. The Shawsheen combined with Elm Brook serves as the major drain and runoff for Hanscom Field.  Springs Brook, which also feeds the Shawsheen, is very low but still flowing.”

“The rivers are low, but as I can see not yet a serious situation to impact our wildlife.  Our lawns may be brown but our rivers are still doing okay — but worth watching.”

At Wednesday night’s virtual meeting of the Conservation Commission, members acknowledged the lack of rain and its impact on small-stream flow. Some streams “that are normally free flowing are now bone dry,” observed member Frank Richichi. He specifically mentioned Mongo Brook, which flows from Concord Road to Elm Brook, draining the wetlands between Davis and Concord Roads.

Lewis described a recent tree planting in town, near the Billerica line. “I felt like I was in the Sahara Desert. The loam had turned to dust – there’s no moisture at all for the roots of the trees to get anything.”

Over at the community gardens off Hartwell Road, Rob Dobson, who serves as a liaison between the gardeners and town government, said the faucets there are connected to the town system, so “the drought has not been so much of a problem for us. The gardens do suffer, of course, if people aren’t diligent about watering their individual plots, but that’s just a matter of personal responsibility.”

Fire Chief David Grunes noted one weather-related threat: “We have experienced an uptick in mulch bed fires and smoldering mulch beds. They’re typically started by careless disposal of cigarettes.”

“We have extinguished the mulch three times in the past couple of weeks at the entrance to Bedford Marketplace near the traffic signals and the mulch near the traffic signal at Great Road Shopping Center last week,” the chief reported. “We have extinguished 10 mulch beds at commercial properties in the past four weeks.”

He noted that regulations require mulch beds to be separated from combustible siding of a commercial building. “It is recommended that a non-combustible break separate mulch beds from any combustible construction, including residences.” Deliberate outdoor burning is only permitted between Jan. 15 and May 1, Grunes pointed out.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

Desiccated conifers along Railroad Avenue, beside the John Glenn Middle School ~ Courtesy image (c) all rights reserved


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Joseph R Piantedosi
August 20, 2022 8:24 am

I have lived in Bedford over 46 years and the Concord River is at the lowest level that I have ever seen it during that time frame. One interesting note I read in a Town engineering report that was done many years ago on an environmental impact study for the proposed Putnam Road wellfield project is that 80% of the flow of the Concord River during a dry summer is treated sewage from all of the upstream towns who discharge into the Sudbury and Assabet rivers which merge and form the Concord River in Concord. Another interesting thing from that same report is that the Concord River is one of only a few rivers in the US that flows north instead of south. Also the river is relatively flat only dropping about a foot every mile.

August 19, 2022 9:09 pm


Last edited 9 months ago by Karen
August 19, 2022 9:08 pm

Weston has restrictions – that’s in the MWRA. – so your article is not factually correct.

Last edited 9 months ago by Karen
Joseph R Piantedosi
August 20, 2022 2:27 pm
Reply to  Karen

The MWRA has not issued any restrictions yet for its member towns.