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Looking Through the Water Glass

“Bottle or tap?” was the familiar question as I sat down recently at a Boston restaurant. “Tap, of course … after all, we flooded four towns to get it!” The puzzled look on the waiter’s face meant that I had once again achieved my petty goal for a teachable moment. Like most people, this guy had no idea where his drinking water came from … no idea about Quabbin.

On April 28, 1938, four Massachusetts towns — Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott — were disincorporated, literally wiped off the map. All the buildings were razed, land was clear-cut and bodies in cemeteries were exhumed and relocated.

Encompassing 39 square miles and containing 412 billion gallons of water, the Quabbin Reservoir was built to fuel the rapidly growing city of Boston.

Today, the specter of Quabbin looms over the distrust and disdain many in Western Massachusetts still feel for their neighbors to the east.

It’s been said that “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” Jack Nicholson got a knife up his nose in “Chinatown,” from Roman Polanski no less, for snooping (ok, nosing) around the Los Angeles water department.

Cities, states and nations have always been very passionate about the provenance of their water resources. Yet when we actually sit down to drink it, we’re mostly indifferent.

Maybe in the future, before you’re subjected to the obligatory five-minute monologue about the wine list, ask about the history of the water in your glass. There could be an interesting story behind it.