As boil-water orders across the region due to last week’s water-main break in East Bridgewater were cancelled, the controversial issue of Brockton’s water supply resurfaced. The water comes from Silver Lake, which is located in Halifax, Plympton, Pembroke and Kingston, and those towns have long questioned the large amount of water Brockton draws from the lake, the impact that draft has on local ponds, as well as the City’s lack of responsibility for problems it causes upstream.
The pipe that burst last week was one of two 24-inch pipes that lead directly from Silver Lake to the City of Brockton. The incident also brought back to the forefront another fishy issue: if Brockton needs so much water from outside its own borders, how can it be selling off water to other towns?
The story is more than 100 years old. As Brockton’s industry and population began to grow at the end of the 19th century, the legislature gave permission for Brockton to tap into Silver Lake.
Although sustainable at the time, Brockton’s water needs grew, and in the late 20th century it became apparent that it was necessary to keep water levels under control. In 1964, during a serious drought, Brockton was granted legislative permission, as an emergency measure, to divert from East Monponsett Pond and West Monponsett Pond from October through May into Silver Lake and sell water to the Town of Whitman. This diversion has continued ever since, most recently this spring.
Originally, diversion was used during emergencies, but Brockton has recently diverted more and more water, hundreds of millions of gallons per year. They have recently diverted up to 24 million gallons per day!
A once dormant committee, the Central Plymouth County Water District Advisory Board, was reactivated in 2013 to help mediate these disputes and various interests. The Board manages water use in eight towns: Brockton, East Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanson, Kingston, Pembroke, Plympton and Whitman.
The Board has recently asked Brockton to present evidence that their diversions do not create health or environmental problems, such as fish kills over the last several months, or the continued problems with water quality in the Monponsett Ponds. Brockton has yet to respond. Brockton has also ignored requests from the Advisory Board to stop transferring water from the Monponsett ponds due to possible contamination.
The Department of Public Health has been testing the ponds for several years now for cyanobacteria, a potentially poisonous algae. The algal blooms have continued to appear at high levels on the West Monponsett Pond and the East Pond has weed overgrowth. While it is difficult to prove definitively how the water diversions affect this harmful situation, the Town of Halifax has continued to have to pay for water treatments of the Monponsett Lakes.
Despite Brockton’s claim of need for water, it has been selling water to neighboring towns. Due to a 20-year agreement with a desalination plant on the Taunton River, Brockton actually has a surplus of water. Brockton has recently tried to purchase the plant. With this second source of water, why does Brockton need more and more from Silver Lake? It does not seem to be needed at all, and Halifax taxpayers are paying the bill.
Because of that 1964 law which allows Brockton to tap East and West Monponsett Ponds and to sell water to Whitman, Whitman benefits from the surplus and buys water from Brockton.
Brockton makes about $2 million dollars a year on this deal, according to a presentation at an April 13 Pembroke Selectmen’s meeting.
With a questionable surplus water situation, quirky laws, aging infrastructure, and uncertain needs for the future, it seems that the Silver Lake water diversion is being abused and only Brockton and Whitman win, while Silver Lake towns lose their shared natural resources.
For a detailed history of the more than one hundred years association of the Silver Lake/Brockton water agreements, see the Princeton Hydro report commissioned by the Town of Halifax in 2013.