Water Works?

Water Works?

People from all over Boston came to Jamaica Plain on Saturday for the Wake up the Earth Festival. Our neighborhood shined as people of all ages enjoyed the performers, the food, and a beautiful day. Unfortunately, the day took on a decidedly different feel when an officer from the Boston Police Department took to the stage at about 6 in the evening to announce the water main break and the boil water order.  Though the crowd took it in stride, the announcement brought the fragility of our water infrastructure to the forefront of everyone's mind.

Disasters such as this are not supposed to happen in Massachusetts. We are the enlightened City on a Hill -- surely we have invested in our essential infrastructure like water -- right?  We simply have not. The United States Department of Environmental Protection estimates that there is almost $7 billion needed in spending in the Commonwealth over the next twenty years in order to improve access and safety of drinking water.

Saturday's catastrophic break of a 7 year old pipe should not have happened.  Speaker DeLeo has already announced that he will ensure that hearings are held to help determine the cause of the water main rupture, which can help us to prevent similar breaks. But we must also have a clear long term plan for delivering safe and clean water to residents throughout the Commonwealth.

Two years ago, I sponsored and successfully passed a law that created the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, which is aimed at developing a long-term financing plan for ensuring safe drinking water and securing waste water systems throughout the state. This Commission is holding its first meeting this week and will provide recommendations to the Legislature on how to pay for badly needed upgrades.

When I sponsored the bill, I had the honor of serving as the Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technology.  The bill and the issue was one of economic development.  We simply cannot grow, projects cannot be built, and jobs cannot be created without access to clean water.  Now, as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, I also see this as a public health issue. Our hospitals need clean water to care for patients and our residents need clean water so that we don’t get sick.  But most immediately, this week, I saw the issue as a parent as my wife and I boiled water for our children to drink and use to brush their teeth.

I hope that this crisis will help us to focus on this issue with more clarity.  We have experienced more than our fair share of water main breaks in pipes that are more than a century old.  If we don't take seriously the need to invest in our water infrastructure we will continue to have water interruptions, maybe not as widespread as this weekend’s, but possibly more severe, where our neighborhood could be threatened by a complete lack of water if a water main breaks in the neighborhood.


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