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Dam controversy

Tonight, perhaps even last night, was the start of a major partying weekend: Halloweekend. I’m sure the UMass Police are gearing up for what will be a raucous holiday. If only the administration gave us Monday off this weekend, then it would make all others pale in comparison.

Courtesy spi516/Flickr

Courtesy spi516/Flickr

Since most of the partying will be happening at night, if you happen to wake up before sunset, and are looking for an activity to bide your time until the next night’s festivities, then I suggest taking a short trip down Route 9 to the Quabbin Reservoir.

The Univeristy of Massachusetts is an internationally recognized research university that draws students from across the country and internationally. I know that a substantial proportion of our student body hails from the Greater Boston area.

If you are in that category, or even if you aren’t from anywhere near the area, it is helpful to know that much of the drinking water supplied to that region is supplied by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). The MWRA obtains its water from two key reservoirs outside of Boston. The first is the Wachusett Reservoir in central Massachusetts and the second is the Quabbin Reservoir in UMass’ backyard.

Having the Quabbin located a short drive from UMass offers a unique opportunity to witness an achievement that is, on one hand, a Massachusetts engineering marvel and, on the other, a controversial creation.

In the early days, Boston supplied its own water from within its boundaries, but as Boston and its suburbs rapidly grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, securing access to water became an increasing priority. Initially, fresh water sources in the surrounding areas were tapped or created, including the Sudbury Reservoir and Lake Cochituate.

Eventually Boston outgrew these resources and the Wachusett Reservoir was constructed in the Worcester area. But that too proved insufficient. As a result, the state legislature voted to create an additional reservoir that would be known as the Quabbin.
The project began with the construction of the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike whose purpose was to cordon off the Swift River. These engineering marvels are enormous in their scope, and the entire project was so ambitious that it took about six years to fill the new reservoir to capacity. However, the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir was not without some controversy.

The Quabbin is so big that it required the disincorporation of four Massachusetts towns: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. Evidence of their existence still surrounds the Quabbin, including various foundations and roadways.

The loss of these Western Mass. towns in the quest to supply Boston’s water needs caused quite a contention in its time. However, time has healed, or at least concealed, these wounds and now the region is a well-known wilderness sanctuary.

The entire area of land surrounding the Quabbin, with its combination of engineering feats, historical controversy and recreational opportunities, has become so popular with both locals and tourists that today there is a Quabbin Visitor’s Center located not too far from the Windsor Dam.

The visitor center is open weekends until 4 p.m., and the actual area, much of which is drivable, is open until about 6 p.m. during this time of year. The drive is a short one from UMass, down Route 9 towards Belchertown and signs pointing in the direction of the dam will take care of the rest.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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