Joseph Favaloro of the MWRA Advisory Board wrote a blog in November 2016, published on the MWRA Advisory Board web site, reprinted here. Subsequently, Favaloro sent the same blog text to numerous papers in the MWRA service area. It contains the same mis-representation, and lies, taken from the DCR-DWSP power point presentation, and relies on outdated and debunked material. It is nothing more than propaganda and fear mongering, and has no basis in fact. In January 2017 NEMBA wrote a rebuttal, also reprinted here, so you can compare them side by side.
Editorial by Executive Director Joe Favaloro
In 2014, the American Waterworks Association declared MWRA’s water to be the best in the nation. (In fact, it won both first and second place both for the City of Boston’s and the MWRA’s own sample.) This was not a lucky coincidence, but the end result of a carefully crafted and intricate plan to protect, treat, and distribute water to the service area’s ratepayers.
A direct offshoot of the federal court’s decision to allow the MWRA/DCR system to avoid building a water filtration system was the development of a three-tier – or as it was dubbed at the time a “Three Legged Stool” – approach to assuring potable water to 2.2 million consumers in the Commonwealth.
The first “leg” was an aggressive watershed protection plan encircling the Quabbin, Ware, and Wachusett Reservoirs. It called for the acquisition of lands to insulate the reservoirs. Since 1986, MWRA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire such lands, and has bolstered DCR watershed staffing and administration to the tune of $25 million per year.
MWRA watershed lands, protecting the drinking water of 2.2 million people
The second “leg” was the construction of the Carroll Water Treatment Plant and covered storage throughout the distribution system – costs totaling $500 million.
The third “leg” was to work with our communities to improve and replace their distribution systems. MWRA has provided over $200 million in interest-free loans to our communities to reline or replace old water service mains.
All of these activities were done to provide the best drinking water to our communities and to avoid additional layers of cost to build a water filtration plant.
And it is working.
Why would we risk it?
As part of its watershed management plan, DCR has established clear rules and regulations that allow for passive recreational use of watershed lands – activities such as hiking, which do not jeopardize these protected waters. Activities that may endanger this protection have been clearly, and strictly prohibited. In recent years, however, mountain bikers have begun encroaching upon the watersheds. Moreover, some have begun altering those lands for their own purposes by cutting trees and building structures to facilitate this illicit use of watershed lands.
The mountain bikers have been aggressively pushing for a change in regulations to utilize watershed lands for bike trails. Up until now the answer has been a loud and decisive “NO.”
But, according to the Worcester Telegram “after years of pushback, repeated rejections, and heavy enforcement, mountain bikers seeking access to the single-track trails in the Ware River watershed have recently found a state official to hear their plea.”
First, anyone currently using the watershed lands for mountain biking is engaging in illicit activity, so state officials are well within their rights to actively enforce this prohibition. Second, while many people enjoy mountain biking, the fact remains that the primary purpose of these lands is protecting drinking water for millions of residents.
The Slippery Slope
Once you say “yes” to mountain biking in the watershed, what about snowmobiles? ATVs? Why aren’t horses allowed? How about swimming? If you can do it in the Ware watershed, why not at the Quabbin? Heck, what about the Wachusett?
My point is once you blur the difference between watershed lands and recreational parkland you have ultimately eliminated your natural water protection filter. Simply say “no.” Mountain biking is a highly enjoyable activity for many people. DCR is absolutely the right agency to create trails for mountain bikers to enjoy; however, watershed lands are absolutely the wrong place for these activities. Instead of placing the drinking water for millions of people at risk (everyone remembers the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan!), let’s find mountain bikers et al. appropriate trails outside of our watershed.
Response by NEMBA:
MWRA Advisory Board Joe Favaloro’s recent fear-mongering propaganda in various media outlets portrays mountain bikers as destructive criminals who, if permitted to ride bicycles on trails in the vast watershed lands of
central Massachusetts, would soon degrade Boston’s pristine water to that found in Flint, MI. The ignorance of his op-ed is equalled only by the hypocrisies of reality.
Living in central Massachusetts means being surrounded by more than 100,000 acres of watershed land owned by us, the Commonwealth’s citizens. This land is foremost the water supply for the residents in greater Boston but lucrative extraction of natural resources and some recreation are also allowed. There is constant logging in the watershed and it is easy to find evidence of oil spills, trash, deep muddy ruts, and extensive collateral damage to the remaining trees. There are bulldozed road drainage ditches into watershed wetlands, clear violations of laws. There’s evidence of toxic illegal dumping sites left for years along watershed roads near tributaries. A large and eroded gravel pit sits mere feet from water on a Quabbin peninsula. Walkers, permitted nearly everywhere, let dogs swim in critical watershed intake zones. And powerboats are allowed on the Quabbin Reservoir among other watershed lakes.
Favaloro ignores all of this but speculates that mountain biking poses the greatest threat to water purity. Favaloro ignores the scientific literature that attests that the physical impacts of mountain biking are similar to that of hiking, even though the Department of Conservation & Recreation that oversees the Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP) has reviewed and agrees with these conclusions. Favaloro, the MWRA, and the DWSP have no factual basis to make these claims.
Favaloro fears that allowing mountain biking is a slippery slope that could lead to allowing snowmobiles, horseback riding, and swimming. But he seems to be unaware that all of those activities are already permitted within the Ware River Watershed. He suggests that mountain biking could spread to the Wachusett Reservoir Watershed, but doesn’t realize that there have been legal mountain bike trails there since 2001.
Overall, Mr Favaloro’s opinion, while widely publicized, is factually inaccurate and fails to consider the needs of area residents. That he is in a position of authority in our water management system is extremely concerning.
The DWSP is mandated to allow environmentally sustainable recreation to the Ware River Watershed and for decades mountain biking has co-existed on the more than 35-miles of trails there. During this time, the MWRA’s own reports indicate that water quality has increased, not decreased, and this fact alone highlights the error in Favaloro’s claims. Mountain bikers are a responsible user-group that play an important role in stewarding trails and open spaces. Hiking, XC skiing, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking should all be possible in the watershed; there’s no reason for just mountain biking to be excluded.
Local residents now feel that they are living in a police state. Trails used for decades by walkers, equestrians and cyclists have been closed to everyone by hundreds of signs and state cut trees. Hidden spy cameras abound. Watershed rangers photograph you and your license plate to look up your address and create a list of everyone on this public land. Keeping people off trails that have been in use for decades with no effect on water quality is suddenly the top priority despite 15 years of water quality reports never even identifying recreation as a cause of poor test results, much less mountain biking.
The DWSP should partner with the local residents to fix or close the trails that could erode and use factual analysis to allow shared non-motorized trail use. Together we could improve the recreational experience of all of local residents while at the same time ensuring that the resource is protected. This is what the New England Mountain Bike Association, the Friends of the Ware River Watershed, and I have offered from the start. But we’ve been soundly and repeatedly told to go away. One can only hope that fear-mongering and misinformation attacks will cease. That common sense will prevail and that we can all work together to achieve the goals of protecting this resource and the recreational experience of local residents