Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts <

last week signed legislation to protect the state's largest reservoirs, in part by authorizing $135 million in bond-financed land purchases.

The bond money would come <

from state general obligations, and pay for the purchase of watershed properties or their development rights. Watershed is any territory from which a drop of water might flow into a reservoir.

Although the bonds would be obligations <

of the state, according to municipal officials familiar with the legislation, payment for the watershed acquisitions would ultimately come form the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which draws water from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs and the Ware River for distribution to 2.4 million people.

Under the legislation, the commonwealth <

would be able to issue no more than $8 million of the watershed land acquistion bonds a year, according to David Lutes, director of legislative affairs in the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. The bonds would be sold over the next 20 years, he said.

For the commonwealth, the new <

bond money would replenish the coffers for land acquisition around the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.

Under a previous resolution for <

open space preservation, the state spent $17.8 million from fiscal 1986 to fiscal 1991 to acquire 4,550 acres of watershed land, according to Stephen Estes-Smargiassi, manager of planning in the water works division of the water resources authority. The state still has $9 million left to spend from the previous authorization, with $3 million of that expected to be allocated by the end of fiscal 1992 on June 30.

Without the new bond authorization, <

"the state would have to find another mechanism -- either borrow the money or come up with some other way of buying that land," said Mr. Estes-Smargiassi, adding that he did not know how many acres of land the state still could seek to purchase outright or protect by purchasing development rights.

"Clearly we're not going to buy <

up people's homes and tear them down," he said. But the authorization contained in the bill signed by Gov. Weld last week should "be more than enough money to do what we need to do."

The legislation also calls for constraints <

on developing land within certain distance of the reservoirs. Building is prohibited within 200 feet of tributaries to the reservoirs. The bill would also keep chemicals such as petroleum products, pesticides, and herbicides at least 400 feet from tributaries.

"By restricting development at <

the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs, and [on land] abutting the Ware River and its tributaries, we hope to limit immediate and residual runoff impacts of shorefront construction," Gov. Weld said in a May 20 signing ceremony, according to a news release.

The reservoirs themselves and all <

of the land abutting them are already owned by the Metropolitan District Commission, part of the state's executive office of environmental affairs.

Roughly 95% of the water distributed <

by the authority flows through the Wachusett reservoir, with much of that flowing from the massive Quabbin reservoir, which lies about 25 miles west.

In order to comply with the 1986 <

amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the authority plans to build an 80-acre filtration plant near the Wachusett reservoir, Mr. Estes-Smargiassi said.

The authority expects to spend <

about $400 million on the plant, which could be operational by 2002, according to Mr. Estes-Smargiassi.

Not acquiring watershed territories <

and imposing development constraints could have boosted the cost of compliance with the federal drinking water requirements. "Without this bill," Gov. Weld said in the news release, "a much more elaborate treatment facility might be needed at a cost currently estimated to escalate to at least $700 million," Other estimates put the cost at as much as $1 billion, according to Mr. Estes-Smargiassi.

He also said other costs would be <

incurred to meet federal standards, including the covering of ancillary reserviors "because of the potential for all sorts of things to get into them," from birds to bathers, the official said. Covering the reservoirs will cost an estimated $300 million.


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