Watered Down:Everett’s Water Usage Numbers Down by 60 Percent As Conservation Wins Out

The battle against wasted water has been won, according to officials at state levels – who note, and astonishingly so, that Everett’s water usage is down 60 percent since 1985.

In news regarding water conservation, the MWRA revealed to the Independent that a 10-year trend towards conservation arrived at a seminal moment in 2014 when officials found that water usage had reached a major milestone all over the MWRA system – including the 60 percent drop in Everett, one of the largest drops in usage in the area.

Interestingly enough, usage in the City of Boston for 2014 was at the same level as it was at the turn of the 20th Century in 1901.

At the turn of the 20th Century, many toilets in Everett and surrounding communities were still in large part confined to the outdoors, hospitals like the Whidden were just open rooms full of beds (if they even existed) and not water-guzzling institutions performing life-changing treatments, and universities were tiny enclaves of scholars rather than large career-training centers with high-rise dormitories using untold millions of gallons of water.

Add in all the modern hotels and other modern conveniences in the home, and one can see how extraordinary the numbers actually are.

“Boston actually used the same amount of water last year (2014) as it did in 1900,” said Fred Laskey, executive director of the MWRA. “You think about the skyscrapers, colleges and universities and hospitals that are now part of the city that weren’t part of the city in 1900 and that’s an incredible story. Water is the most precious of our resources. The fact that we are conserving like this is a great new trend. It is a great untold story.”

In Everett, usage hit a high with 9 million gallons of water used on a daily basis in 1985. That plummeted by 1993, when usage went down to just below 5 million gallons per year. Then, in 2014, the drop went further and is now at 3.6 million gallons per day of water usage – a 59.6 percent decrease. So, despite new schools and a burgeoning population boom in Everett, the city’s residents and institutions have cut water usage in half – and then some.

Everett’s numbers were the best of any community in the area. In Revere, over the same time period, there was a 15.3 percent decline. In Chelsea, there was a 20 percent decline, and Boston had a 47 percent decline.

Everett and most other MWRA communities get water from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. At 412 billion gallons, the Quabbin Reservoir is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country. In the late 1980s, it was not uncommon for MWRA’s service area to exceed the safe yield of 300 million gallons per day in consumption of the Quabbin on a regular basis.

Demand on the Quabbin these days is down around 200 million gallons per day, which is 130 million gallons less per day.

Officials pointed to the reform of the plumbing code in 1988 that required low-flow toilets. Regular toilets use 3.5 gallons per flush, while the low-flow’s use 1.6 gallons – a difference of more than half.

Laskey said the conservation victory is a result of three things – changes to the plumbing code, better leak detection and careful use due to rising costs.

“I think it’s several components that have led to this,” he said. “One, the change in the plumbing code requires any new construction or major renovation to use water efficient appliances, faucets and toilets. That’s a major component, but it’s only one component. The other is very aggressive leak detection and pipe rehabilitation. Some communities do leak detection every two years or annually. We have an aggressive program here. In years past, a leaky pipe could be emptying into the storm drain or the ground for a very long time. We tend to catch them very quickly now.”

Yet another piece of the puzzle is the fact that water has become so expensive. With an eye to the pocketbook, ratepayers are more apt to conserve on a large or small scale in order to save money.

“You also have the economic utility of it,” Laskey said. “Water is now a real cost-center in household budgets and business plans. Some 30 years ago, you could leave the faucet on all night and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Now, it’s an important cost-center and people and businesses are formulating their budgets on water now. There is the economics of it. You save money.”

All that said, the elephant in the room amidst the great news on conservation is why water bills continue to increase despite declining usage.

Laskey said the answer is simple, and it comes down to paying the freight on the court-mandated Boston Harbor Cleanup and Sewer Separation projects.

“Basically, why bills are going up is because the work we are bound to do for the clean up of the Harbor,” he said. “We financed that with 20 and 30-year bonds. It’s like the mortgage payment now…We spent $7 billion and 80 percent of that was required by federal and state regulators to come into compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act. It’s as simple as a mortgage payment. We have to make those payments.”

On another conservation note, MWRA officials said usage is down for the entire system – not just Everett. That, they pointed out, comes despite adding the five new communities of Bedford, Stoughton, Dedham/Westwood, Reading and Wilmington.

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