Before 1795, Boston residents obtained their water from local wells, rain barrels, and a spring on the Boston Common.
The City of Boston was founded in 1620, however, evidence shows us that Native Americans inhabited the area as long ago as 2500BC.
Throughout its long and distinguished history, Boston has played important roles in the development of our country and in the process created a high standard of living for its citizens. And one, not so small feat, was the development of a water system that allowed its citizens to live a healthy, prosperous and convenient life. The following is a brief history of this system:
Boston's early settlers relied on cisterns, wells and a spring on Boston Common for their water. However, as the city grew, this supply was inadequate and the quality often poor. The first attempt to provide an alternative came from private suppliers who, in 1796, began delivering water from Jamaica Pond through a system of wooden pipes. But as the City grew in size as well as in population, City planners began to look towards the western part of the state for a more abundant water supply.
In 1848, the City obtained its first municipal water supply from Long Pond, now called Lake Cochituate, which is about 19 miles west of Boston. The water traveled via the Cochituate Aqueduct into the Brookline Reservoir. In 1848, Boston's population was about 127,000 and in the period between 1860 to 1900, the population tripled to 550,000. In order to meet this growing need, several construction projects were initiated. Beginning in 1866, construction of several reservoirs and related aqueducts were completed to address the water needs of the City. These additions, however, still did not meet the growing population's needs. In response to this, in 1895, the City formed the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which was to identify additional water sources for the City.
Looking still further west, city planners located an area in central Massachusetts, 35 miles west of Boston called Wachusett. In 1908, the Wachusett Dam, Reservoir and Aqueduct were completed. In 1919, to oversee the complex water system (and sewer system), the Massachusetts Legislature created the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), now the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The MDC developed a large-scale plan for expanding the water supply so that it would meet future growth. The results of this plan were to augment the Wachusett Reservoir by impounding the Swift River with the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir 65 miles west of Boston. Completed in 1939, and continuing today as the major source of water for metropolitan Boston, the Quabbin Reservoir has a capacity of 412 billion gallons, making it the largest man-made water supply reservoir in the world.
By the 1970's, years of deferred maintenance were beginning to take their toll on the water system. Water demand, once again, was beginning to stretch a supply that had not increased significantly in forty years. In addition to this, much of the water was being lost from leaking pipes before it ever reached the consumer and water pressures were low in many parts of the City. In 1977, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) was created to oversee and update the City of Boston's system. And in 1985, Massachusetts Legislation was enacted that transferred the possession, control and operation of the MDC Water and Sewerage Divisions to the newly created Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). This included the reservoirs and major transmission lines throughout the metropolitan area.
Today, Boston is one of 50 member communities that purchases its water (fluoridated and disinfected with chlorination) wholesale from the MWRA and represents approximately 33 percent of the current demand on the MWRA water supply. BWSC's water distribution system currently provides service to approximately 88,000 active accounts throughout the City. Boston's resident population of nearly 590,000 almost doubles each day by commuting workers and students, shoppers, tourists, conventioneers, hospital patients and visitors. Visit our Present Day Water System page to learn more.