History of the Westford Water Department

At the turn of the last century, many Westford residents were plagued with failing wells and poor water quality. In the 1905 Annual Report of the Town of Westford, the Board of Health reported several cases of typhoid fever, most prevalent “at the Centre.” Samples of residential wells revealed “but few fit for domestic use.” The following year, the Committee on Public Water Supply recommended the Town appropriate $65,000 to construct a public water supply; however, the subsequent article was dismissed at the March1907 Annual Town Meeting.

That same year, The Westford Water Company was founded by eleven local businessmen. The first Board of Directors included George T. Day, Sherman H. Fletcher, Julian A. Cameron, John C. Abbot and Edmund Blake. Having collected $40,000 in stock, the first action of the board was to borrow an additional $35,000. The capital was used to lay 8.16 miles of water main and to build a water storage tank on Prospect Hill, which would service 217 water takers in the center, and another on Town Farm Hill, to supply Graniteville and Forge Village.

The Board of Health wrote in the 1908 Annual Report, “We now have one of the best water systems in our Commonwealth…We truly believe it is one great secret to health.”

The Town of Westford contracted with the Westford Water Company to purchase fire protection in 1937 at a rate of $35.00 per year per hydrant. The contract was, “subject to the right of said Town to take over the franchise and property of said company…”

The Westford Water Company was expanded in 1944 when the Company purchased the small water system that serviced Brookside Mill and parts of Nabnasset. We’re told the Brookside water system had been established by the original owner of the mill and was purchased along with the mill by the Abbot Worsted Company in the early 1940’s. The purchase included “land, pumping station, water mains, standpipe, and all equipment…” used to service 60“subscribers.”

Towards mid-century, during the first building boom in Westford, the Company found itself under the constraints of laws applying toprivate water companies. The Company was required to purchase water mainsinstalled by developers within “one year at a cost of 3 ½ times the firstyear’s income.” With several new developments planned, the Board of Directorsand later, the stockholders voted to sell the Westford Water Company to theTown. Town Meeting voted in 1955

to purchase the Westford Water Company for the sum of$281,000 to be paid entirely from water revenues.

Over time, environmental changes began to alter water quality. In the 1970s, for the first time, a chemical was added to raise the pH to counter the corrosive effects of acid rain.  Iron and manganese, though not a health threat, discolored clothing and appliances and department employees were kept busy flushing services and dispensing Iron Out. In the 1980s, a phosphate was added to the water which aided in sequestering iron and manganese. In the1990s, in accordance with Town Meeting vote, Fluoride was added to promotedental health and a future water treatment initiative to filter the water wasadded to the department’s Master Plan.

In 1999, E. coli was discovered during routine samplingnecessitating immediate and permanent chlorine disinfection of the entiresystem and the water treatment initiative became top priority. Participants ofa Value Engineering Workshop determined the best method of treatment andWestford was awarded an interest-free $14 million State Revolving Fund loanfrom the Pollution Abatement Trust. In May of 2004, two water treatmentfacilities went on line and the entire water system has been enjoying filteredwater ever since.

Effective July 1, 1992, Town Meeting voted to establish aWater Enterprise Fund acknowledging the Water Department’s self-sufficiency. Eachyear, the Water Department reimburses the Town
for direct costs such as insurance, retirement, and F.I.C.A.Medicare as well as indirect costs such as a percentage of the budgets of theTown manager and finance, human resources and technology departments. In 2008,for example, the Water Department reimbursed the Town $339,984, or about 11% ofthe department’s budget.

Today, the Water Department services over 5,300 service connections and in 2016, pumped 497  million gallons of water. The system has grown to 136 miles of water main, five water storage tanks which maintain 4.8 million gallons of storage, nine wells and two water treatment facilities.

The first superintendent of The Westford Water Company,Alonzo H. Southerland was employed from 1907 until he died in May of 1948. At that time, Albert E. Mountain took over until his retirement in1969. Harold A.Fletcher, Sr., who started with the department in 1956, was appointed superintendent of the Westford Water Department until his retirement in 1991 at which time the position was given to Warren E. Sweetser. Mr. Fletcher served on the Board of Water Commissioners and was named honorary member of the board at a ceremony in 2007 honoring Mr. Fletcher for 59 years of service to the Water Department.