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The answer to this question is a firm “no”. Southborough is fortunate to be a part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) system and to have the Town’s water system completely supplied by the MWRA. The primary MWRA reservoirs (Quabbin and Wachusett) contain approximately 475 billion gallons of water, which is approximately a 6-year supply for the 60 or so MWRA water communities. The recent drought conditions do affect cities and towns that depend on non-MWRA sources for their water (such as wells or rivers), but the MWRA has an abundance of water, and this abundance is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
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This project is addressing Hopkinton’s request to gain access to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system by a connection through Southborough’s water system (which is already a part of the MWRA water supply system).
Hopkinton approached Southborough with the proposal for this project. Hopkinton is making this request because Hopkinton’s current water supply sources (via wells into the underground aquifers) have become contaminated by various chemicals, and no other reasonable water supply options are available for Hopkinton. Southborough is the most practical connection for Hopkinton to the MWRA water system.
The answer to this question is a definite “yes”. The MWRA currently has excess water delivery capability of approximately 100 million gallons per day. The MWRA is seeking to sell an additional 20 million gallons per day of this excess capacity to new “water communities” such as Hopkinton. Selling this additional water will actually benefit all MWRA water communities, including Southborough, as this will generate additional MWRA revenue to cover the water system fixed costs for all participants. As context, Southborough currently uses an average of about 880,000 gallons per day of MWRA water, and Hopkinton wants to use an average of about 1,060,000 gallons per day.
The answer to this question is a firm “no”. In fact, there may be a few parts of Southborough that will see increased water pressure and may require the installation of pressure-reducing devices
Southborough and Hopkinton will need to have a to-be-agreed-upon Inter-Municipal Agreement (IMA) that will specify the financial and other terms of an arrangement for this project. The Southborough Select Board (with support from Town Counsel and others) will draft the initial version of this agreement, as the basis for discussion/negotiation with Hopkinton. The respective Select Boards have the authority to sign the IMA on behalf of their towns.
It is expected that Town Meeting will be asked to fund an independent engineering review of the project. The current engineering firm for this project works for both Southborough and Hopkinton, so Southborough plans to seek an independent opinion. Any funding beyond this engineering review that might need Town Meeting approval depends on the terms of an Inter-Municipal Agreement (IMA) that will specify the financial and other terms of an arrangement for this project. If Hopkinton pays for all of the project costs, Town Meeting approval (beyond the initial independent engineering review) would not be required. This was the case for Southborough’s existing IMA with Ashland, which was not voted on by Town Meeting, whereby Southborough supplies MWRA “emergency” water to Ashland.
This will depend on the terms of the IMA. The “best case” for Southborough is no cost with Hopkinton paying for the full cost of the project (including reimbursement for the cost of the independent engineering review).
This possibility will be addressed in the IMA. There is also a potential supply limit that may be imposed by the MWRA, as they have set limits on the total amount of water they are willing to supply to “new” MWRA water communities.
Yes, Southborough will arrange for an independent engineering review of the project. Southborough will pay for this review initially, but it is possible that the IMA may include terms that provide for reimbursement of this expense.
The Select Board has the authority to sign the IMA. Any Town funding for this project needs to be approved by Town Meeting.
The Select Board will continue to solicit comments from relevant boards and committees and from residents and will arrange for the independent engineering review. In parallel to these activities, the Select Board (with support from Town Counsel and others) will work to create an initial IMA draft for discussion/negotiation with Hopkinton. The Select Board intends to have a draft IMA and a proposed budget for the independent engineering review to present to the next Annual Town Meeting.
The project activities through the signing of an IMA will be managed by the Select Board, as the legal authority for signing any IMA that governs the project. The IMA is expected to contain the details of project governance and management going forward.
Southborough has an agreement with the MWRA for a supply of water that is more than adequate to meet Southborough’s needs going forward. The project-related upgrades to Southborough’s system will provide sufficient capacity for Hopkinton, regardless of Southborough’s future water needs. The project engineering includes a build-out analysis to account for likely water demand growth in both communities (and to allow for Hopkinton’s potential growth in water demand from the fact that much of Hopkinton does not currently have access to the municipal water supply). Additionally, water usage for MWRA communities has been steadily declining for the past 20+ years (down by about one-third over this period—due to such factors as water conservation programs, use of more water-efficient plumbing fixtures, and fixing leaks in the water distribution systems), so the MWRA has an ample supply of water for Southborough and Hopkinton and all other MWRA water communities.
Such contamination is not possible because of the structure of the Southborough system, the installation of a backflow device at the interconnection point and the fact that Hopkinton will no longer be drawing water from the contaminated sources.
The engineers did consider this alternative, but this has a number of major drawbacks, including:
As for a potential MWRA role in building a new pipeline for Hopkinton, the MWRA builds only its own infrastructure and not any local community infrastructure.
Aside from the issues of “being a good neighbor” and “helping someone in need of help”, Southborough benefits from reaching an agreement with Hopkinton at this time. Because Hopkinton is facing a potential public health emergency if a safe source of drinking water for Hopkinton residents is not secured through an agreement with Southborough, there could at some point be external pressure on Southborough to allow this MWRA connection for Hopkinton. By proactively addressing this issue with Hopkinton, Southborough can likely have much more flexibility in reaching an acceptable agreement with Hopkinton—versus having an external entity (such as the State) determine the terms of such an agreement.
Town residents can attend (or view) public meetings related to this project and make comments about this project in these meetings. Residents can also write letters or send email messages to the Town boards considering this project. For information related to this project, the DPW web page has a link that provides access to project documents (via the “2022 Projects” tab and then the “Hopkinton Water Connection” tab).