Crumbling water pipes – some that are between 40 and 60 years old – have deteriorated to the point that  Boston and nearly 60 percent of eastern Massachusetts cities and towns risk losing their water supply should a catastrophic failure occur, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) says.

If the tunnel were to have a problem, the city would have serious issues trying to deliver water to the people we serve."

Fred Laskey is the Executive Director of the MRA. In outlining the problem, he says, “there is a lack of redundancy or backup to our main tunnel system that delivers water to Boston, serving some 2 million people. There’s one main tunnel that delivers water that comes in from Route 128 into Chestnut Hill, near Boston College, and there’s no backup to that tunnel.”

According to Laskey, this means that: “If the tunnel were to have a problem, the city would have serious issues trying to deliver water to the people we serve.”

The MWRA board of directors met on October 6th to review a plan to create a redundant water tunnel system, a valve reliability plan, and to analyze costs and establish a timeline. He said that during the 4-hour meeting his staff presented multiple proposals outlining the history of the tunnel, engineering, mechanics, hydraulics, and financing. Officials are trying to reach agreement on a plan by early next year. The project cost is estimated at $1.5 billion.

The next step is to present several proposals to each member community.  By law, each community has a representative on the MWRA advisory board.

There are three Metropolitan tunnels within the system that are impacted:

The specific problem is not the city tunnel, which is a deep rock tunnel, 200 to 300 feet underground, in bedrock with little to any risk of failure. It’s the tunnel connections. Many of the cast iron and steel valves have been in service for 60 to 70 years. They are past their lifespan by about 10 years.

Lackey says officials have been aware of the problem for many years, but were hesitant to fix it for fear the system would fail. But, he says, the city can wait no longer and that’s why they’re embarking on the Metropolitan Tunnel Redundancy project now.

Laskey says the project would be paid for by the ratepayers. At this time, he says the MRWA is looking to underscore the urgency of the project and it expects it could be undertaken with minimal rate increases.

He says the backup tunnel was first envisioned in a master plan in 1938. The project, he estimates, will take about 15 years.

To listen to the extended interview with MRWA Exe. Dir. Fred Laskey and WGBH Morning Edition host Bob Seay click on the audio file above.