Despite a very dry summer, MWRA membership spares Marblehead from water restrictions

John Lamontagne
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In a season marked by yellowing lawns, community water bans and even the occasional brush fire, Marblehead residents have enjoyed a summer free of water restriction – despite one of the driest summers in years.

As many North Shore communities face outdoor water bans, the town’s membership in the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority for its water supply has spared the town from the worst effects of the regional drought, Marblehead Water, Sewer and Public Works Superintendent Amy McHugh told the Marblehead News.

A map of the Massachusetts Water Reasource Authority’s communities and their color-coded tier of water service. [COURTESY PHOTO / MWRA’s WEBSITE]

That’s because the Quabbin Reservoir, the 412-billion-gallon water reserve in central Massachusetts that supplies water to 46 MWRA member communities, stands at 93 percent capacity this summer, according to McHugh.

Despite the extremely dry conditions of the last few months, the Quabbin is near full in large part because it was very full at the start of the season, MWRA spokesman Sean Navin said in an e-mailed statement. “The primary reason why the Quabbin is at such a high level compared to the rest of the region is due to its size. The Quabbin holds more than five years of supply at average demand levels.”

Earlier in August, much of the North Shore was determined to be in a Level 3 “extreme drought,” due to the lack of rain and high temperatures, which forced communities such as Gloucester and Manchester-by-the-Sea to implement outdoor watering bans.

This week, Danvers implemented its own. The Danvers ban bars any outdoor watering – using sprinklers or washing a car with a hose – as the town experienced water shortages due to the Ipswich River’s low levels. Those caught defying the ban in Danvers would receive a warning letter for the first infraction, but face a $300 fine for violations thereafter.

“Marblehead hasn’t had to implement any water restrictions so far,” McHugh said, pointing to the MWRA strong water supply. McHugh added that residents actually use 30 percent less water today than they did some 40 years ago, when the town joined the MWRA, in large part due to the installation in many homes of low-flow toilets, lower flow shower heads and other water-use-reduction measures.

“We’re fortunate we’re part of the MWRA, especially this summer,” McHugh said.

Despite the lack of water restrictions, McHugh urged Marblehead residents to conserve water and avoid watering their lawns or running the water unnecessarily. The MWRA has also recommended its customers conserve water whenever possible.

A scene from Aug. 1, 2022, at Marblehead Transfer Station shows firefighters continuing to douse the smoking, charred grass. Marblehead Fire Chief Jason Gilliland said the drought likely had little impact on the fire, but the parched grass may have been drier than usual and could have contributed to the fire’s spread.

The dry conditions across the North Shore have also led to brush fires in neighboring communities.  Last week, a brush fire burned through 86 acres of the Lynn Woods, and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation banned any open flame fires and the use of charcoal grills in its parks for fear of sparks potentially starting a blaze. The Breakheart Reservation in Saugus was closed last week after a brush fire tore through several acres of woods there.

But the town has largely avoided those issues as well, Marblehead Fire Chief Jason Gilliland told Marblehead News. Because Marblehead has so little open space, he said, there is little opportunity for a large brush fire.

While the recent fires at the transfer station are under investigation for possibly having been set, Gilliland indicated the drought likely had little impact on the fire. The grass at the transfer station may have been drier than usual, which could have contributed to the fire’s spread, but Gilliland said that it is fairly clear fires were set in three different locations.

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