By Gordon Davis
Worcester has experienced a shortfall of rain for four of five years, ending in 2016. It looks like the shortfall will continue. Although this could be an anomaly, it could also be a pattern. It might be the beginning of a new normal where 38 inches of rain per year is all we get.
As Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus has shown us by standing in the dry ground exposed by low water, Worcester reservoirs are less than half-filled after the five-year shortfall. The intakes for the reservoirs are now above the water level and cannot draw in water.
The City of Worcester has taken some emergency measures, such as buying water from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) that runs the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs. It pays the MWRA $1.7 million per month for the water. The money comes from the City’s general funds. This expenditure will be made for the foreseeable future.
This money is needed elsewhere, such as the public schools.
The City of Worcester has also instituted water use restrictions that have helped to mitigate the shortfall. However, even with the restrictions, the level of water in the reservoirs have not risen above 50 percent.
First of all, let me say that water is a human right. We deserve clean drinking water for no other reason than we are people. The people in Flint, Michigan, are the victims of human rights violations. Throughout the world denial of water could be used as a weapon or a means of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Secondarily, water is an asset for a region. Like affordable energy, water is vital for a prosperous community. There have been examples of civilizations that cease to exist due to the drought conditions brought on by climate change. The Akkadian Empire, Khmer Empire and the Puebloan Culture are historical examples.
Of course, I am not saying that New England or even Worcester is facing imminent demise. I am suggesting some thought should go into the possibility that 38 inches of rain a year is the new average for the region.
The Worcester City Council has wasted its time and resources on nice but less vital issues such as dog parks and mounted patrols. There should a report from the City Manager on the short-term and long-term effects of the drought on Worcester and how the City plans to respond to it.
As we have seen, the reservoirs of the City will have to be redesigned. This is because 38 inches of rain will not keep them filled. Water use will have to be increasingly recycled. Roof water and runoff should be increasingly harvested …
This issue is actually a state or regional and federal issue.
The redesign and improvements to reservoirs is beyond the budgets of all cities and towns in Massachusetts.
As the federal government has become involved in the improvement of infrastructure like roads and bridges, it will likely have to become involved in the infrastructure of dams and reservoirs of water-short areas.
With the Trump presidency, water infrastructure improvement is unlikely to occur. This is especially true, as both the state voters and our Republican governor voted against the president-elect.