Jul 10 2009
Part of the Assawompsett Pond Complex lies within the small town of Rochester, Massachusetts, but the water rights generally don’t go with the town – it has little ability to use the water.
Now, though, it is launching efforts to try to bring in more water from the ponds.
Fred Underhill of the Assawompsett Pond Complex (APC) met with Selectmen Monday (July 6) at the Board’s bi-weekly meeting for the third time in six weeks, along with Bob Cummings of the town Water Board to talk about water allocation from the pond complex.. Every 10 years, the state allocates water withdrawal from the ponds Pocksha, Long, Assawompsett, Great Quittacus and Little Quittacus, which comprise the Assawompsett Pond Complex. With the 2010 water allocation date looming, the Board and Underhill have stepped up discussion in recent weeks in an effort to determine how best to protect Rochester’s interests in the state’s largest natural inland body of water.
Underhill, a town selectmen for nine years beginning in the 1980s, provided additional detail and historical background that led to the town’s current water dilemma in the sun room of his North Avenue home recently.
Dating back to 1875, legislation was passed giving Taunton water rights to the ponds. Three years later, New Bedford was given rights to the water. Throughout the early 1900s, the two cities were allowed to sell that water to neighboring towns including Dighton, Berkley, Raynham, Freetown, and Fairhaven and in 1924, Fall River was also given rights to take water from the pond complex.
Back then Underhill said, it was not realistic for the small towns of Rochester, Lakeville, Middleboro, and Freetown that encompass the APC to fight the three cities at the state level. Over the years, New Bedford and Taunton have taken land by eminent domain around the watershed, including 800 acres in Rochester, and the cities were free to take as much water as they wanted up until 1986, when the Water Management Act, Massachusetts General Law chapter 21G, was passed. The Act allows the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to regulate the quantity of water withdrawn from all ground and surface waters to ensure future supplies.
Currently, anyone withdrawing over 100,000 gallons of water per day including farmers, cranberry growers, and schools need a permit.
The current safe yield, the amount of water that can be extracted from the ponds without adversely impacting the water quality is 27.5 million gallons of water per day Underhill said. New Bedford currently pulls 18.27 million gallons, and Taunton takes another 5.87 million gallons.
He suspects the cities would oppose changes to the legislation though this would hardly be the first time Rochester had fought to protect water within it’s borders. In 1964, the town of Marion sought legislation claiming the taking of water resources by eminent domain “within the area of the town of Rochester,” according to a December 10 article in The Sippican Shopper. However, by January 2, 1965, The Standard Times reported Marion selectmen had withdrawn the legislation agreeing to a compromise with Rochester selectmen. Underhill’s father, then Selectmen Chairman Frederick W. Underhill, led the charge opposing the legislation spurred by the “emotions of Rochester townspeople,” according to Underhill’s quotation in the article. The Standard Times goes on to quote the elder Underhill: “The situation has gotten out of hand with fear and distrust uppermost in the townspeople’s minds and with co-operation and trust forgotten. Most important it can destroy the mutual goodwill now enjoyed by the various official town boards of Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester that meet periodically to discuss common objectives and problems.”
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