Northampton approves ‘Blue Community’ resolution

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Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, June 2017
Northampton is furthering its legacy of protecting its public water resources with the unanimous City Council approval last month of a non-binding “Blue Community” resolution.
The resolution, which is considered an “aspirational document,” began as a citizen initiative, brought to the council by Northampton resident and UMass Amherst professor Bill Diamond after he learned about the Blue Communities Program during a visit to Canada. The program, which was created by the social action organization The Council of Canadians, does not officially exist in the U.S., so Northampton is believed to be the first community to pass such a resolution.
“If it could happen,” Diamond said, “it could happen in Northampton.”
Diamond went into the community and drummed up support for the resolution, eventually bringing a draft to the council. The resolution was amended and then approved.
“It was a feel-good moment at the City Council,” Diamond said. “Everyone was excited.”
Northampton has a long history of protecting its public water resources, acquiring watershed lands and building a state-of-the-art treatment center. City Council President Bill Dwight said the city had already implemented about 90 percent of what the Blue Communities resolution calls for.
Last spring, Mayor David Narkewicz and Councillor Ryan O’Donnell co-sponsored an ordinance to protect the municipal water supply from privatization.
“There wasn’t a threat of privatization,” Narkewicz said. “It was more a proactive measure. The city has invested significantly over the past century to provide a robust water supply, and we wanted to go on the record in protecting it.”
Among other initiatives, Blue Communities work to reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles. The Blue Communities resolution is non-binding, so it does not require a ban on disposable plastic water bottles. But participating communities resolve to cease the use of bottled water in municipal buildings and at municipal events, instead providing municipal water using dispensers.
The city, Narkewicz said, “is trying to set an example in terms of, we’ve invested in the [water] supply and a treatment plant … and we want to make sure we are utilizing and promoting the resource as opposed to bottled water, which has its issues around sustainability and use of plastic.”
Dwight added, “The point is really to try and encourage the community to be more conscientious.”
This conscientiousness can be seen in the high school’s Environmental Club, which was involved in building public support for the resolution and has been fundraising to install water dispensers in the school.
The resolution calls for the city to encourage the installation of water filling stations not only in municipal buildings, but in local business and institutions as well.
Newer municipal buildings and a new park have filling stations, but their installation is more difficult in older buildings like City Hall, the mayor said.
“We hope that people will start to appreciate having clean municipal water available,” Dwight said. “It’s an important, essential right to have access to safe, clean drinking water.”
For more information, call Councillor Bill Dwight at (413) 587-1210.