Moon Island Sewage Reservoir

May 13, 2006

Harbor-old_sewage_facility_moon_island copy

Provided and copyright by: Rob Sheridan
Summary authors & editors: Rob Sheridan

When it became operational in 1884, Boston's new waste-water system defined the state of the art in sewage management. The system included a "filth hoist" facility at Harbor Point that lifted the city's effluent 35 feet (10.7 m) to facilitate gravity drainage through a hard-rock tunnel, hand-excavated beneath the waters of Dorchester Bay. The effluent then moved along a purpose-built causeway before finally reaching the Moon Island sewage reservoir.

For nearly 100 years, wastewater collected in the 25 million gallon Moon Island reservoir and was released, untreated, on the outgoing tide into Quincy Bay and Boston Harbor. This contributed to Boston's reputation as having one of the most polluted urban coastlines in the world. After ignoring the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act for over a decade, a civil suit brought by the city of Quincy finally forced action. The resulting Boston Harbor Cleanup became one of the most expensive environmental recovery projects in history. It has also been one of the most successful. Brown algae-choked water now sparkles blue on a sunny day, Harbor seals have been spotted, beaches are open, and healthy fish are being caught.

Forgotten and obscured by vegetation, the abandoned sewage tanks on Moon Island, ironically constructed with granite quarried from Quincy, are now located in a part of the new Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. For those who can find them, they provide sobering testimony to the impact engineers and politicians can have on the environment.

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