UMass Amherst Experts Play Key Role on Quabbin Reservoir Committee

AMHERST, Mass. - Faculty from several disciplines at the University of Massachusetts are members of a group that advises the managers of the Quabbin Reservoir on how best to protect and conserve metropolitan Boston’s water supply and the forest that surrounds it.

The Quabbin science and technical advisory committee was established in 1996 as an outgrowth of the latest 10-year management plan developed for the Quabbin by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the state agency charged with overseeing the reservoir and managing watershed lands. The committee’s scientists and resource managers make recommendations to the MDC on issues that affect water quality and protection of watershed lands.

The group will hold its third annual meeting Fri. Oct. 30 at the Quabbin Visitor Center in Belchertown. Paul Barten, associate professor of forest resources at UMass, and Thom Kyker-Snowman, natural resources specialist, forestry, for the MDC, serve as co-chairs.

The agenda for this year’s day-long meeting focuses on insect and disease management in relation to the water supply, with presentations on the potential threat to the Quabbin forest from the gypsy moth and the hemlock woolly adelgid. Barten says that in the immediate future it appears that the region’s oak trees may be spared a serious outbreak of gypsy moths, due to a naturally occurring pathogen. The greater threat at this time, he says, comes from the hemlock woolly adelgid, which has just spread into the Quabbin forest from the south. This could pose a serious problem because extensive stands of hemlock grow in stream valleys and along the Quabbin’s shoreline. Their proximity to the water supply makes controlling the woolly adelgid particularly challenging, he notes.

"There are various options for managing this problem," says Barten, "and the committee’s combined expertise will be very important in determining a future course of action."

Fifteen of the committee’s 35 members are affiliated with UMass. That contingent is drawn from such diverse fields as forestry and wildlife management, entomology, civil and environmental engineering and geosciences.

Barten says that through the years Quabbin managers have frequently sought the advice of University faculty members. The committee simply formalizes that role, he says. "It’s a valuable form of outreach and public service on the part of the state’s land-grant University," Barten says.

Other members of the group include scientists and managers from several state agencies, the USDA Forest Service, Massachusetts Audubon Society, The Harvard Forest, New England Small Farms Institute, Amherst and Hampshire colleges, Yale University and the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

"By design, the committee represents a broad range of interests, disciplinary expertise, and viewpoints," says Barten. "That diversity allows us to look at a particular issue from many different perspectives."

Quabbin Superintendent Bill Pula says, "We have one specific goal and that’s to grow the best possible forest to protect the reservoir. We need a solid scientific foundation for our management decisions, so we need to be able to turn to the experts for advice. Some of the questions that arise are controversial and the answers generate a range of opinions; the committee is a great resource in helping us develop management strategies."

"There is great value in bringing researchers and managers together to solve problems," says Barten. "In general, that hasn’t happened frequently enough in resource management."

Quabbin Reservoir has a capacity of 412 billion gallons, and supplies Boston and 55 communities with approximately 250 million gallons of water per day. The MDC monitors the quality of the water supply and manages 53,000 acres of the 96,000-acre watershed.