Water treatment plant manager Steve Cusick (l) and superintendent of water, sewer and drains Mike Retzky/ Credit: Needham Observer

Some Massachusetts communities get water exclusively from the MWRA (Massachusetts Water Resources Authority), some use wells located in the community, and a handful use both. Needham is one of those few “dual” water supply communities (Wellesley is another). For most of the year we use water from our town’s own wells, but we are also connected to the MWRA. 

Being a dual town, said Needham’s Director of Public Works Carys Lustig, “It’s a good thing. We get flexibility. If there is ever an issue with MWRA, we just shut off our [MWRA] supply.” A decade ago, there was an MWRA water main break. “It required a water boil order in Boston and Newton,” Lustig said, “but we didn’t have to; we worked off our own wells.” 

When the first town well was dug in 1937, a Boston Globe article proclaimed, “This well is considered to be one of the most remarkable in the world in that its supply of water is apparently inexhaustible.”

According to the Globe, engineers of the time believed “The well … taps the bed of the pre-glacial Merrimack River.” The Merrimack, which flows from New Hampshire, was diverted over a million years ago by a glacier that covered New England. The well is adjacent to the Charles River, but tests of its temperature and chemical composition performed when it was dug confirmed it was not Charles River water. 

Two additional wells were dug more recently. Together, these three wells, which all draw from deep underground in the aquifer (the groundwater-containing layer below the bedrock) typically produce 2 million to 3 million gallons of water per day.

From the well to your tap

According to Lustig, who has directed Needham’s public works department for three years and been with the town for 16, “Water from the wells is pumped to the Charles River WTP (Water Treatment Plant).” There, the plant staff monitor the water pressure, filter it through a series of giant filters, and test and adjust the pH, add fluoride, and perform other testing and treatments in compliance with state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

After it leaves the treatment facility, the water is pumped out to two large tanks on Birds Hill (1.5 million and 2 million gallons). If you live along the route from the WTP to the tanks, the water feeds your home directly. For the rest of us, it is stored in the tanks and travels to our homes by gravity. “The height of the tanks and their size is what creates the water pressure throughout the town,” Lustig said.

Credit: Needham Observer

During the winter months, the combined 4 million gallons supply all the town’s needs, turning over practically every day. During the summer, referred to as irrigation season because people water their lawns and crops, town water is supplemented from the MWRA. 

Safety and hardness

“Our water is very safe,” Lustig said. “The regulations put on municipal water supplies are very stringent. And the town meets them. We have to comply with regulations from both the Massachusetts DEP and the EPA.” 

Water naturally contains minerals and contaminants. “We put in several additives for disinfection (such as chlorine), chemicals that help with clarity and taste, fluoride for oral hygiene, and some anti-corrosion chemicals. Raising the pH reduces breakdown of pipes,” she said.

Corrosion can introduce lead into the water. But the main water pipes are not a major source of lead. “The vast majority of lead we have is in connections between the water main and the house, called lead goosenecks,” Lustig said. “Lead was flexible, so that was one of the things they would put in. We’ve been doing systemic removal for the past five to six years; we are well ahead of the requirements.”

According to a 2022 report, Needham water is moderately hard, with 69 parts per million of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Lead and copper were below the action level in all homes tested, and there were no violations for other substances. 

Good enough for Dasani 

Lustig wants us to realize how good our water quality is. “Up until a couple of years ago, the Coca-Cola facility in Needham was bottling Dasani water from Needham water,” she said. They stopped for distribution considerations unrelated to the water quality. 

“Dasani came to Needham because of the taste of our water,” said Lustig. “All they were doing was running it through a reverse filtration process to remove some of the fluoride and other things.” 

“Broadly speaking,” she said, “The regulations for drinking water are more stringent than what is required for bottled water.” 

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