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State grants $400,000 to protect 11-town water supply

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / January 14, 2010

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A state grant of nearly $400,000 will help protect the water supplies of Middleborough and several of its neighbors by enabling the purchase of 88 acres in the Black Brook watershed that are under threat of development, officials say.

The Black Brook supplies water to the Assawompset Pond Complex, a connected series of ponds forming the state’s largest natural water body and providing drinking water for 11 communities including Bridgewater, Freetown, Lakeville, Middleborough, and the cities of New Bedford and Taunton.

The grant will enable the town to buy the 88-acre property owned by developer Seven Hills Corp., of Weymouth, that is bounded on three sides by previously purchased conservation properties. Taking over the parcel, which state and local officials say is under immediate threat of development, will help secure Middleborough’s drinking water drawn from the Spruce Street well in south Middleborough, which lies in the Black Brook watershed, planning director Ruth Geoffroy said.

Seven Hills has filed preliminary subdivision plans for residential development of 12 to 32 houses, Geoffroy said. A Chapter 40B affordable housing development - also a possibility - would bring 100 houses.

Environmental officials who awarded the Drinking Water Protection Grant of $383,000 to Middleborough (out of a total of $510,000 given to three towns statewide) said the state has some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation.

The state Department of Environmental Protection “works with communities and water districts to ensure that the watersheds and wetlands that feed our drinking water supplies remain safe from contamination,’’ Commissioner Laurie Burt said. “The best way to sustain this valuable resource is to maintain a protective buffer that filters these water supplies naturally.’’

The dangers that development pose to these water sources include residential and commercial septic systems, chemical pollution from lawn fertilizers, and polluted runoff from paved surfaces, officials said. Nutrients from these sources seep into ground water, speeding up weed growth in streams and ponds and reducing water quality.

The state grant will be combined with $100,000 in local taxpayer money, plus a contribution of an estimated $350,000 from the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit land protection agency, to meet the $860,000 purchase price.

Acquiring the 88 acres would be the latest act by the town to protect its water. “We’re working hard to preserve that corridor,’’ Geoffroy said. Over the past five years, Middleborough has spent more than $1 million of its own money to buy five parcels in the Black Brook corridor. Over a 10-year period, she said, the town has assembled 800 acres. Some of those parcels remain in private lands but with conservation restrictions on them that prevent development.

All the communities that receive their drinking water from the Assawompset Pond Complex - which stretches over Lakeville, Rochester, Freetown, and Middleborough - depend on protection of Black Brook as well, Geoffroy said.

Black Brook carries as much as 17 million gallons of water a day into the ponds. Since the ponds’ safe yield (the amount of water which can be drawn from it) is 27 million gallons a day, much of the water people drink in the 11 communities dependent on them comes directly from the brook.

In addition to Black Brook and the Assawompset ponds, Middleborough’s 72 square miles include the Nemasket and Taunton rivers, important natural resources that boast the largest herring runs in the state. “There’s a lot we have to protect in this town,’’ Geoffroy said.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.