Amherst College and Western Massachusetts have experienced below-average rainfall amounts for a seventh straight month this year and as a result, water levels in town reservoirs are the lowest they have been in recent history. In mid-August, the state of Massachusetts issued a drought watch for the Connecticut River Region and the Town of Amherst has imposed mandatory water conservation measures for the town, including Amherst College campus.
If you’re on campus, you’ve likely noticed these signs around encouraging conscious consumption and water conservation.
In the fall of 1980, Amherst experienced a severe water shortage due to a very dry summer, several hot days in September, an unusually light snowfall the preceding winter, and the yearly influx of many thousands of students to the area.
In early September, University of Massachusetts, the largest of the three colleges in Amherst, closed campus for several days as an emergency response to lessen demands on the town’s water supply.
By mid-September 1980, Amherst College director of land conservation and assistant to the director, along with a newly established Amherst College conservation program, met with all first year students to educate about wasteful habits and to promote on-campus awareness about water and energy conservation. The conservation program offered suggestions to students about ways to reduce their water use:
- “Turn off the water when brushing teeth, washing face, and shaving.
- Use plugs in sink–fill the sink with hot water instead of letting the faucet run.
- Use full loads in washing machines and
- For those living off-campus, purchase the low-flow shower heads that all Amherst dorms already use.”
By October 1980, the water supply emergency had abated and the Town of Amherst completed the construction of a new well in South Amherst. Student members of the Amherst Water Conservation Project, a state-funded study, established goals for water conservation in Amherst:
- “To allow the town to remain self-sufficient in its water supply;
- To extend the life of the town’s new sewage treatment plant;
- To postpone or eliminate the need to develop new water sources;
- To improve water quality by allowing the town to use its higher quality water sources;
- To avoid future water shortages.”
The Amherst Student reported that members of the Conservation Project were meeting with the Physical Plants at University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, and Amherst College to ensure that each institution was doing its best to conserve water.
The Amherst Student gives an interesting glimpse of the 1980 town water shortage and campus-wide response. A full run of the newspaper is available to read in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.
For more information on Amherst College’s ongoing efforts to conserve water and for ideas on how to do your part, visit the Amherst Conserves website.