Welcome to our new series, “Bedford Infrastructure.” Infrastructure is one of those things you just expect to…work. When it’s not working may really the only time you even think of it. You turn the faucet, flip a light switch, flush the toilet, it all works! When it doesn’t, we have a problem!
Did you ever stop and think about what it takes to make this all happen? To turn a faucet in your house and get clean water from a pipe is amazing by any stretch of your imagination. Where does our gas and electricity come from and how does it get here? Being online, how does that happen?
That’s what this series is all about.
First up, the most basic of needs – WATER
We are fortunate we live in the Northeast where water is abundant. I went to school out west and quickly learned how attitudes toward water differ when it is scarce. Living in the Northeast with abundant water, we often take our access to clean water for granted. Just because water is plentiful does not mean getting it to your tap is easy. There is a lot to it.
Bedford Water History
In colonial times all the way up to the start of the 20th century, water was an individual concern. Individual wells and access to rivers and lakes were how most people got their water. Bedford’s first municipal water project dates back to 1909. The Bedford Historical Society wrote a story about Bedford’s Big Dig ~ 1908-1909, which ran in The Bedford Citizen on Nov. 16, 2021. The article explains the town’s first municipal water works project. That system is basically how we got our water until 1993 when Bedford became part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). Bedford connected to the MWRA through a pumping station in Lexington in that year. Lexington and Bedford have a 25-year agreement that was renewed in 2018.
Currently, the town gets 100 percent of its water from the MWRA, and has been doing this since 2018. Up until 2018, Bedford still pumped 10 percent from the Shawsheen Groundwater Treatment Facility. In 2018, the chemical PFAS was detected in the well and because a safe level of PFAS has not been determined, the Town switched to 100 percent MWRA water.
Bedford’s Current Water System
In 2020, Bedford supplied 580 million gallons (MG) of water to residential, retail, and industrial customers – slightly more than the 2019 usage (550 MG) – resulting in an average daily usage of 1.6 million gallons.
The average residential use is 53 gallons per person per day. In 2020, Bedford’s peak day demand was 3.2 million gallons. Typically, 90 percent of Bedford water comes from the MWRA (i.e. Quabbin Reservoir) through three-meter vaults at the Lexington town line.
Until 2018, 10 percent of the water came from the Shawsheen Treatment Facility. The three Shawsheen wells have been off-line since 2019 and are still off-line while the town works with MassDEP to determine safe and cost-effective measures related to PFAS. Bedford’s water system includes approximately 80 miles of water mains, 800 fire hydrants, 700 backflow prevention devices, 6,000 service connections, and three storage tanks.
Getting the Water Here
Our water originates from the Quabbin Reservoir, about 65 miles west of Boston, and the Wachusett Reservoir, about 35 miles west of Boston. Combined, the two reservoirs supply an average of approximately 200 million gallons per day to consumers.
The reservoirs are filled naturally. Rain and fall snow fall onto watersheds (protected land around reservoirs) and eventually turn into streams that flow into reservoirs. This water comes into contact with soil, rock, plants, and other material as it follows its path. This process helps to clean the water, and it can also dissolve and carry very small amounts of material into the reservoir.
The Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs are protected. More than 85 percent of the watershed lands that surround the reservoirs are covered in forest and wetlands. About 75 percent of the total watershed land cannot be built on. The natural undeveloped watersheds are important to keep the water clean and clear. Also, to ensure safety, the streams and the reservoirs are tested often and patrolled daily by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Because they are well-protected, the water in the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs is considered to be of very high quality.
Tested Each Step of the Way
MWRA tests more than 1,600 water samples per month from the reservoirs all the way to household taps. Annual and monthly test results are posted on mwra.com.
The water Bedford receives is treated at the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant in Marlborough. Various disinfectants and other techniques are used to make sure the water is free from any pathogens. Fluoride is then added to reduce dental cavities. (Currently, the MWRA is not adding fluoride as they upgrade their system, but this should resume in June of 2023. ) The water chemistry is adjusted to reduce corrosion of lead and copper from home plumbing. Last, the Authority adds mono-chloramine, a mild and long-lasting disinfectant combining chlorine and ammonia that protects the water while it is in the local pipelines.
Bedford Water Department Operations
The Bedford DPW Water division is in charge of maintaining the 80 miles of pipe as well as further testing the water before it reaches homes and businesses. As part of the regular maintenance, more than 200 hydrants are flushed to remove sediments in dead-end water mains. Older, leaking hydrants are replaced as needed. The DPW also installed chlorine monitors at the three-meter vaults in Lexington to track the incoming disinfectant levels in anticipation of re-chlorinating the water storage tanks as needed.
David Manugian, the Director of Public Works, says that Bedford runs the system on three priorities; Fire Protection, Drinking Water, and Outdoor/irrigation use – in that order.
More Water Quality Testing
The Water Division regularly tests and monitors water quality and testing for lead. They also monitor the hardness of the water and adjust the pH as necessary, making it less corrosive in order to prevent the leaching out of lead and copper from household plumbing.
In our next article, we’ll look at how we get electric power to our homes and businesses.