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That liquid that comes out of the faucet

Mill Pond Reservoir water pipe installation Burlington MA
Pipe installation, Mill Pond Reservoir


The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, June 16, 1981

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 104)

Tapping the supply

Most people take the water that comes into their homes for granted. It’s a service they expect. But it wasn’t always there. Water under pressure, available to every home in town, is a modern convenience little more than 30 years old. Prior to 1949, each farm or homeowner depended on groundwater. That meant being dependent on the whims of the water table and tapping the few springs in town.

As long as houses were few and far between, this was fine. But population density started creeping into the picture. Areas like Winnmere suddenly had drinking wells and cesspools shoulder-to-shoulder. Not good! Also, firefighters wanted water at the ready, not passively sitting in ponds here and there.

The state had been studying water systems for decades already.

  • In 1912, a special commission studied water supply for cities of Salem, Beverly, Woburn and some smaller towns included Burlington.
  • In 1931, the state allowed Burlington to supply itself with water and even sell some to Woburn.

Nothing came of those moves. But finally in 1940, Burlington’s annual Town Meeting authorized a committee to pursue town water. The committee  comprised John A. Akeson, Carl H. Bussey, Ragner F. Johnson, Harry Wood and Gove W. sleeper. They faced a ticklish problem. While everyone saw the wisdom of town water, it would have to be phased in. People didn’t want to be taxed right away for water that wouldn’t arrive in their neighborhoods for many years to come.

The selectmen in 1947 petitioned the Federal Works Agency for a $6,000 grant to start a Burlington water system plan. Approved! The town hired an engineering firm called Whitman & Howard to get things moving. A new Burlington Water Investigating Committee was formed in 1948: Gove Sleeper, James E. Day, Kenneth W. Brown, Maurice DeMone and Jack J. Moss. In 1949, things started moving forward at last.

  • The committee found a way to appease everyone regarding taxation. In the beginning, only homes within 1,000 feet of a pipeline were taxed.
  • The town paid $800 to buy 11 acres on Great Meadow Road from C.B. Johnson of Woburn, then dug 30 wells there.
  • The site for a standpipe and water tower was selected on Center Street, on Property owned by the Murphy estate.
  • To finance the program, $280,000 was acquired by the sale of bonds under Chapter 635 and another $112,000 under chapter 44 of the General Laws.
  • Construction started in November of 1949, and water service began in August of 1950. By the end of that year, 12.8 miles of water main had been installed, the 30 wells were producing 30,000 gallons a day, the pumping station and water tower were done, 88 hydrants were in place and 349 services opened. The first water bills went out.
  • In 1952, Walter Clark became the first full-time superintendent of the town’s water district. Slow of speech and gentle by nature, quiet and conscientious, he nevertheless proved to be a trustworthy and competent superintendent who believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay. To Walter must go much of the credit for the orderly growth of the system. Many people in town will also remember him as a special police officer, for he used to control the Sunday traffic in front of St. Margaret’s for years.
  • By 1961, there were 4,028 services in use, 584 hydrants installed and a second pumping station built on Middlesex Turnpike.
  • In 1963, the district meeting in March accepted Chapters 718 and 126 of the Acts of 1962 which allowed the district to construct a reservoir for water storage and authorized the District to construct and operate a system of sewers. Thereafter, the incorporation became the Burlington Water and Sewer District. A reservoir was constructed on the North Woburn line which drew water from the Shawsheen River in Billerica, and a treatment plant was built to purify it.
  • In 1967, the town did away with the so-called “water district” and created a department of public works to handle water and sewer systems. Today William Duffy is assistant superintendent of the sewer division and William D. Keene is manager of the water treatment plant at the Mill Pond Reservoir, both under the direct supervision of Harold J. Publicover, superintendent of public works. More about the creation of the reservoir here.
  • In June 1980, over 122 million gallons went through the water system, and with the third pump added in the treatment plant, its output could reach 4.7 million gallons per day.

That’s quite a bit more than Fred Walker achieved from his windmill-powered water pump on Winn Street at the turn of the century! Theodore Murray had a little water system of his own established on Cambridge Street several years before town water was inaugurated, and he supplied some of his tenants and the old Wood homestead with good clear water from a spring now covered by the parking lot somewhere near the present location of the Fresh Spot.