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Water Distribution System in Boston Essay

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Updated: Oct 9th, 2019

Up until 1795, Boston greatly relied on local wells and rain barrels for its local water supply. In 1795, the city turned to Jamaican water supply which supplied water throughout the city using wooden pipes but the city lacked a sufficient delivery capacity and the Jamaican water supply also started to pose major health concerns.

This prompted the city to develop a conchitutae water supply system in 1951 to boost the distribution of water (MWRA 2). However, due to population explosion in the area, the conshituate water system wasn’t sufficient to cater for the whole city and the Chestnut Hill reservoir was build to supplement the water shortage.

Later, the Wachuset and the Quabbin water reservoirs were built to further supplement water shortages and then the MWRA’s integrated water supply system was established to improve the supply of water which still supports the city’s water distribution today (MWRA 5).

Water Sources and Treatment

Upon construction of Boston water reservoirs, common sources of water used to supply it were the Nashua River, Lake Winnipesaukee, Sebago Lake, and the Merrimac River which also sustained water to the Wachuset reservoir and the Quabbin Reservoir (MWRA 5). These two reservoirs are Boston’s major water reservoirs and supply most of Boston’s household with fresh water each day.

In general, Boston is estimated to use approximately 220 million gallons of water each day (Ryan 12). However, before water is supplied into the households, it is normally treated under high standards of care, conforming to state and federal water regulations.

In the initial steps, water is treated by ozone bubbles derived from oxygen, and later, chloramines are added to prevent any contamination because the water travels long distances before final consumption. Alkalinity and acidity are later checked through the addition of sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide which also ensures there is no probability of a metallic substance (from domestic plumbing) dissolving in the water. Fluoride is later added to improve consumers’ teeth (Massachusetts Water Resources Authority 6).

Piping and Pressurization

After treatment, water is pressurized through elevation of the reservoirs to maintain a high gravitational pressure. However, in areas with low gravitational force, water is pumped in selected pumping stations. Water delivery in the city is done through ductile iron, vinyl, and reinforced concrete. These piping systems are installed in conformance to state and federal standards of piping.

Water Hydrants

Boston uses the dry barrel fire hydrants because of their ability to withstand extreme climatic conditions. These hydrants are placed 500 meters from each other and their presence can be witnessed in virtually all major streets. Boston currently has approximately 13,000 fire hydrants but the city is also grappling with the problem of children opening up the hydrants while playing.

In this regard, the relevant authorities are currently contemplating installing tamper resistant magnetic caps to prevent damage to the water hydrants (Ryan 8).

Boston’s piping layout is concentrated in the metropolitan areas and in areas of high population. Practically each street has a piping access that ensures water is available for indoor and outdoor use. Areas doted with fire hydrants are also precisely supplied with water through a network of pipes dug underground. The piping network canvasses through streets and under specific buildings to provide good water coverage of the city. Currently, the water piping system is such that it supplies one hydrant in every three square miles (Ryan 14)

Most of the city’s hydrants are normally tested under the ISO standards annually or semiannually but in some cases, some hydrants have a longer warranty of testing, say between 5-10 years. Boston’s hydrants conform to ISO standards class 8 which ensures that its hydrants supply approximately 250 gallons of water each minute for two hours (Ryan 15). In addition, the hydrants are often cleaned to ensure that no debris, silt or erosion occurs within the pipes to maintain efficient working of the hydrants.

Pumper tests are also periodically undertaken to ensure the liner and strainer are clear of any silt deposits. The caps to the hydrants are also well painted and the grass around it trimmed to levels which expose the openings. More importantly, the ISO standards in which the city’s fire department conforms to, ensure that water pressure and availability is always maintained at recommended levels.


Boston city has in the past ensured it obtains sustainable amounts of water from its two major water reservoirs. The city currently, stands to meet most of the modern city’s water demands with sustainable sources of water from its natural resources and proper treatment of water which are in line with the state and federal standards.

Also with a hydrant population of 1,300, Boston adequately meets the needs of fire preparedness in the city and its conformance to ISO standards also ensures that the hydrants are in perfect working condition. However, the biggest challenge to the city’s water distribution system rests in ensuring the system is in perfect working condition.

Works Cited

Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. How the MWRA Water System Works. 25
February. 2010. Web.

MWRA. Metropolitan Boston’s Water System History. 9 August. 2006. Web.

Ryan, Arnold. City Journal: Goodbye, Fire Hydrants; Hello, Tot Sprays. 19 August. 2009. Web.

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