Atkins Reservoir, Amherst/Shutesbury line
How safe is our drinking water?
According to the recently mailed 15th annual Town of Amherst Drinking Water Quality Report -- fine reading on a hot summer day -- the public water supply for our little town is perfectly safe. I'll drink to that.
Every major test parameter (Inorganic substances, radioactive contaminants, disinfection residuals) tested below "violation" level.
Amherst has a "complicated" water distribution system: two surface reservoirs, one located on Amherst/Shutesbury border (Atkins) and the other in Pelham, and five ground wells located in the Lawrence Swamp.
Operating at full capacity the system is capable of pumping out just over 6 million gallons of treated water daily.
Pelham Reservoir system
Last year average demand was 2.65 million gallons per day with peak demand occurring on July 19th, a thirst requiring 4.185 million gallons of water to quench. UMass is our #1 consumer of water absorbing 31.04% of total, although they were not in session on the day of peak demand.
In 2002 the state performed a Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) report for the town outlining common sense water protection methods for keeping the system safe, mainly by controlling/owning the land immediately around the water source (400 feet), called Zone 1.
In 2005 Tighe & Bond did a "Public Water Protection Plan" for the town which pretty much mirrored the SWAP report from three years earlier, where the main concern was dealing with inappropriate land use (industrial, farming, homes with septic systems, etc) too near the water supply.
Interestingly -- even though both studies are post 9/11 -- neither of them addresses sabotage. Both reservoirs are located within spitting distance of paved roads, so it would be easy to drive a pick up truck almost directly up to the unguarded body of water and unload whatever you please.
Atkins Reservoir with nearby road
Sure Atkins is pretty b-i-g with a maximum capacity of 200 million gallons. However, if you dissolve in that body of water 1760 pounds (thirty-five 50 pound bags) of something, say arsenic, it would reach a level of one part per million.
EPA regulations for arsenic in drinking water set a maximum of ten parts per billion.
Massachusetts State Police briefly detained seven college aged trespassers (one of them from Amherst) around the Quabbin Reservoir almost two months ago, immediately setting off terrorism concerns.
Should you be concerned? Probably not. Highly unlikely anyone would try to poison an entire town.
But then, 12 years ago it was also highly unlikely anyone would hijack civilian commercial airliners and fly them into buildings.