Watershed FAQs

Watershed Protection Frequently Asked Questions - History

What is a watershed?

A watershed is an area of land within which all waters flow to a single river system.

What watershed is Amherst in?

The Town‘s water supply comes from reservoirs in Shutesbury and Pelham, and from town wells located in the Lawrence Swamp in Belchertown and South Amherst. Amherst works closely with these three towns in jointly protecting both surface and underground drinking water supplies.

Is the Town of Amherst connected to the Connecticut River?

Both the Mill River and the Fort River and their tributaries flow into the Connecticut River. Click here for a map showing mill and fort river watershed.

Are the town watershed lands connected to drinking water?

Yes, in fact, the Town of Amherst first started protecting land in order to preserve drinking water in the 1940s. Town owned lands provide a protective buffer around our reservoirs and wells. This buffer helps ensure drinking water quality by filtering rain and ground water.

Why are we protecting land in local watersheds?

Protected land ensures clean water for wells and reservoirs supplying Town drinking water.

Who manages town?owned land in the watershed?

The Conservation Department works in cooperation with the Department of Public Works to manage all town watershed lands in Amherst, Shutesbury, Pelham, and Belchertown. The town employs a Land Manager who is a Licensed Forester and is responsible for management and long-term forest health.

How long have we been protecting watershed land?

Since 1940, the Town of Amherst has maintained significant watershed forest holdings to protect its reservoirs and underground water supplies. In 1941, the Town purchased the Amherst Water Company real estate, which included four reservoirs and considerable acreage in Pelham and Shutesbury, with additional parcels added in succeeding years. The Town now owns approximately one third of the 7,600 acres of land that drain water into the reservoirs, and hopes to increase that percentage when necessary to prevent development that might have a negative impact on the water supply.

Is the land permanently protected?

Yes. All land purchased for watershed protection is covered under Article 97 of Amendments of the State Constitution. To remove such protection, takes a 2/3 vote of Amherst Town Meeting and a 2/3 vote in both the Massachusetts House and Senate.

What guides the town’s approach to watershed protection?

Protected land is essential to Amherst's appearance, economy, and well-being. Conservation land helps maintain the town's rural character, provides adequate land area for traditional and modern forms of outdoor recreation, and protects important wildlife habitat for both game and non-game species. Protected farmland provides a permanent base on which present and future farm businesses depend, and helps farm supported (i.e. grain/dairy processing, equipment repairs) businesses maintain a significant presence in Amherst and adjacent towns. Protected land also ensures clean water for wells and reservoirs supplying Town drinking water.

Traditional resource-based economic activities such as agriculture and forestry, and traditional forms of recreation such as fishing and hunting, continue to play major roles in Amherst. The Conservation Commission and Conservation Department need to continue to help keep those traditions and their associated cultural practices viable by working closely with farmers and farmland owners to encourage the farm economy; carrying out ecologically-sound forest and open land wildlife habitat management on Town watershed lands in the three adjacent communities of Belchertown, Pelham, and Shutesbury;

What committees are involved in watershed protection?

The Conservation Commission and the Agricultural Commission are the two bodies in Amherst most involved in land conservation. Land conservation projects are brought to these bodies by staff for their review and ultimate recommendation to town meeting. Other boards and committees may weigh in. Request for funding for land preservation go through the community Preservation Act Committee and Water Supply Protection Committee.

How many acres are preserved as watershed land?

The town watershed holdings are 2,662 acres, with a total of 690 acres in Shutesbury, 1,537 acres in Pelham, 140 acres in Belchertown, and 300 acres in the Lawrence Swamp in South Amherst.

Could I donate my land for watershed protection?

Yes, the town is always open to considering donation of land for watershed protection. For more information on donating your land please call Dave Ziomek, Director of Conservation and Development at 413-259-3122.

Watershed Protection Frequently Asked Questions - Recreation

Are Amherst watershed lands open to the public for recreation?

Amherst does not encourage active recreation on our watershed properties. However, activities like hiking and cross-country skiing are not prohibited. With the exception of the Robert Frost and a short section of the M&M Trail, no other formal hiking trails exist on the watershed forest. Fishing, swimming, and boats of any size in the reservoirs are also prohibited. No motorized vehicles are allowed.

What are the watershed rules and regulations?

Motorized vehicles and all formal recreation areas such as trails and playing fields are prohibited on watershed lands. The only exception is the well-traveled and historic route of the Metacomet & Monadnock Trail as it crosses through the Pelham Reservoir System watershed. Watershed lands are considered restricted open space and allow only informal passive or traditional consumptive forms of recreation such as walking, bird watching and hunting which do not threaten the integrity of the water resource.

Can I use an ATV or boats?


Who do I call if I think there is a problem?

I you have questions, concerns, or discern an emergency situation in the watershed please call the Land Manager at 413-259-3045.

Watershed Protection Frequently Asked Questions – Water Quality/Drinking Water

Where can I find water quality info?

The Department of Public Works publishes an Annual Water Quality Report. The report can be accessed by clicking here.

Where does my drinking water come from?

The Town water supply system currently has seven sources that include:

  • Atkins Reservoir in Shutesbury and Amherst
  • The Pelham Reservoirs: Hills, Hawley, and Intake
  • The South Amherst Wells: the Brown Well in Belchertown, the Lawrence Swamp Well and the Bay Road Well in South Amherst. 
The surface water supply areas at Atkins and Pelham, and Wells 1, 2 & 3 are used year round to satisfy the required demands. These five sources supply approximately 90 percent of the total water produced. There are also four water tanks: two at Orchard Hill, one at Village Park, and one on the Mt Holyoke Range.

What activities impact water quality?

Boating, use of ATVs, septic systems, road run-off, road salt, pesticides, herbicides, and walking a pet and not cleaning up after them.

Click here for the DPW Water Supply web page.