WORCESTER - The city is looking to add to its growing inventory of protected land in reservoir watershed areas.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. is recommending that the city spend $95,000 to protect, through acquisition of conservation restrictions, nearly 50 acres of watershed area off South Road in Holden.

Paul J. Moosey, commissioner of public works and parks, said the land contains the headwaters of the Wadsworth Brook, a tributary to Holden Reservoir No. 1 which is a critical part of the city's drinking water supply.

He said the conservation restriction acquisition is sought to protect Holden Reservoir No. 1 by preventing the development of those parcels. Any development in that area would degrade water quality of the nearby reservoir, he said.

With this acquisition, the city will have secured protection for 1,100 acres of watershed land since 2005, according to Mr. Moosey. He said that is in addition to approximately 7,180 acres acquired or otherwise protected during the previous 100 years.

All together, the city has acquired or protected about 8,280 acres, representing some 32 percent of its entire water supply watershed, Mr. Moosey said.

All the city's reservoirs used for drinking water are in towns outside Worcester. The city’s water filtration plant is also located in Holden.

"Watershed protection is the first barrier to prevent contamination of drinking water," Mr. Moosey wrote in a report that goes before the City Council Tuesday night. "It has been, and continues to be, a significant focus area for (Department of Public Works and Parks) and is an integral component of our strategy to assure safe drinking water at the tap."

The commissioner said the South Road acquisition project is a joint effort of the city, the White Oak Land Conservation Society and participating property owners.

Mr. Moosey said the conservation restriction held on the 9.16-acre property at 540 South Road, owned by K. Michael and Catherine Robbins, and the 11.07-acre property at 560 South Road, owned by Sean F. and Kathleen McShea, will be jointly held by the city and White Oak Land Conservation Society.

Both those property owners have gifted the conservation restrictions to the city.

Mr. Moosey said the conservation restriction on the remaining White Oak owned properties in the South Road area, totaling about 29.6 acres, will be held solely by the city.

The city has agreed to pay $95,000 for conservation restrictions on three parcels that make up those 29.6 acres. At the same time, White Oak will pay $87,000 for purchase of one of those three parcels.

"By partnering with other organizations and working with these property owners, the city will be able to gain more watershed protection for its drinking water at a much lower cost," Mr. Moosey said. "Typically, an investment of $95,000 by the city would protect about 11 acres of watershed land whereas with our involvement in this joint effort we will be protecting approximately 50 acres.

"This partnership allows the city to stretch its dollars to protect five times the land area," he added.

Mr. Augustus said the city's interest in the land is strictly for water supply protection purposes, though Mr. Moosey added that project partners also have an interest in passive recreational use and wildlife habitat.

He said portions of the land will be available for limited public use that is compatible with water supply protection.

The commissioner added that through the city's involvement in the project, it is assured of having an opportunity to review and approve any plans for recreational use of the site.

Mr. Augustus is recommending the $95,000 for the project come from the city’s Water Enterprise Land Acquisition Account, funded by revenues generated through the city’s water rates.