MWRA Writing Contest Winners 2005-2006
Honorable Mention Winner, Grades 9-12
Katie Cole , Grade 10
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Water: A Looming Crisis in Wilmington
In October of 2002 a test on the Wilmington wells uncovered dangerously high levels of N nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Following the discovery of this substance, which the federal government classifies as a probable human carcinogen, five out of nine of Wilmington's wells were closed down due to contamination. Immediately following this crisis and continuing for the past three to four years Wilmington has been forced to obtain additional drinking water from Burlington and Woburn at a high financial cost. The four remaining wells in Wilmington collect groundwater and then pump the water to one of two treatment plants in Wilmington. In the treatment plants the water is tested for certain chemicals and then treated using filtration and disinfection for any harmful contaminants found. From the treatment plants water is pumped to one of three storage tanks before being pumped to the homes and businesses in Wilmington. The problem with the drinking water is it is simply coming from groundwater and is not actually protected in any way. It is impossible to test for every single harmful chemical that may be in the water; the water supply was not being tested for NDMA until a group of residents from Wilmington insisted that the town do so.
Such shortage of water and fear of contamination does not exist in all towns like it does in Wilmington. The forty eight communities who are part of the MWRA system do not experience the same fears and restrictions as residents of Wilmington do. The districts that are part of the MWRA acquire their water through either the Quabbin Reservoir or the Wachusett Reservoir both of which are located West of Boston. These reservoirs can each hold as much as a four year supply of water for the Boston area. This large quantity of water is naturally filled in the reservoirs through rain and snow fall. The lands around the reservoirs, called watersheds, are protected lands; seventy five percent of the land cannot be built on which keeps the area exceptionally clean. The water soon after hitting the ground forms streams which flow into the reservoir. Natural cleansing occurs during this process as the rain water comes in contact with such things as soil and rock.
The water in the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs leave the reservoirs and travels to one of two different treatment plants. To reach the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant at Walnut Hill in Marlborough water runs through either the Cosgrove or Wachusett Aqueduct into the reservoir. The water then flows into the MetroWest Water Supply Tunnel were it is then stored in large water tanks. From these tanks water is pumped into businesses and homes in the Metro West and Metro Boston area. To reach the Ware Water Treatment Facility in Ware, Massachusetts water flows through the Quabbin Aqueduct into the reservoir. Water directly flows from this treatment plant to businesses and homes in the Chicopee Valley area. During every step of the process the water is being tested and treated for any contamination in the water that could be harmful to one's health.
The MWRA water system is clearly an advanced and well maintained process of retrieving water to homes and businesses in the Boston area; however, the MWRA not only regulates water to one's home but also as it leaves the home. In Wilmington when wastewater leaves a home it is pumped into a septic tank. In this tank solids gravitate to the bottom of the tank where they stay in a sludge state until removed using a pump. The liquid in the tank is released into the ground through a series of small holes located in the tank. The water then enters the ground and is mixed in with the rest of the groundwater treated in Wilmington's drinking supply.
The MWRA sewer system is nothing like that of Wilmington's. Dissimilar to the pipes in Wilmington the pipes in the MWRA system do not flow into a sewer tank in one's own yard but rather is pumped to town wide sewers which are owned and operated by the town's sewer department. The water then continues from the local sewers to MWRA inceptor sewers and from these sewers proceeds to MWRA treatment plants. In the voyage from sewer system to plant most water flows naturally due to gravity; however, in rare circumstances water must be pumped. At the Deer Island Treatment Plant the contaminated water goes through three phases of treatment. During the preliminary phase of treatment sand and mud settle in a grit chamber and is later taken to a landfall. The water then moves to the primary stage where sixty percent of the solids settle and are removed. These solids or sludge is then transported to a pelletizing plant in Quincy where it is dried and used in fertilizer. This stage, however, does not remove many toxic chemicals from the water. Most of the toxic chemicals are removed during the secondary stage of treatment. Also during the secondary stage eighty to ninety percent of the remaining solids are removed. The remaining wastewater or effluent travels through an Outfall Tunnel below the ocean floor until it is released through fifty five separate diffusers into the ocean. This tunnel system allows the wastewater to mix with one hundred and twenty foot deep water instead of the shallow waters of Boston Harbor.
The MWRA clearly is the best solution for water treatment in the Boston area. For years residents in Wilmington have been urging the town to become a part of this system, especially since 2002 when five out of nine of the town's wells closed. To become a part of the MWRA system, though, is not a simple or inexpensive task for the town. In addition to paying the yearly cost, all the streets and yards would have to be dug up to lay the pipes required to obtain water from and release water to the MWRA. Wilmington's water supply is currently and has been in a crisis since 2002 when four of Wilmington's nine wells were closed down. Wilmington cannot continue to rely on Burlington and Woburn's water supply and good will for help. To hook up to the MWRA will take months, maybe even years to lay down the necessary piping. To clean up the wells may or may not be an option. The fact is Wilmington needs to make up a decision now to avoid an even more disastrous situation than then one Wilmington faced in 2002.