The Watershed Protection Act (WsPA) regulates land use and activities within critical areas of the Quabbin Reservoir, Ware River and Wachusett Reservoir watersheds for the purpose of protecting the quality of drinking water. Administered by the Division of Water Supply Protection (formerly the MDC Division of Watershed Management), WsPA applies only in towns in DCR watersheds. Click here to see names of towns affected by WsPA and references to the full text of the act and its regulations.
Why Regulate Land Use?
Many aspects of the use and development of land affect the quality of nearby streams, which then flow into reservoirs and other sources of water supply. Type of development, density, amount of paved surface, and proximity to a stream contribute to the amount and types of pollutants in the stream. Often it is desirable to preserve a buffer zone beside open water, or limit impervious surface over an aquifer; but physical conditions on the land may allow for different rules in different settings.
Protected Zones and Restrictions
Two areas are protected in different ways under the WsPA. Within 400 feet of the reservoirs and 200 feet of tributaries and surface waters (the "Primary Protection Zone"), any alteration is prohibited. "Alteration" includes a variety of activities, such as construction, excavation, grading, paving, and dumping. Generation, storage, disposal or discharge of pollutants is also prohibited in the Primary Zone.
Wachusett Watershed Act Protection Zones
Between 200 and 400 feet of tributaries and surface waters, and on land within flood plains, over some aquifers, and within bordering vegetated wetlands (the "Secondary Protection Zone"), certain activities are specifically prohibited. These include storage, disposal or use of toxic, hazardous, and certain other materials; alteration of bordering vegetated wetlands; more dense development; and other activities. See 350 CMR 11.04 for a complete list.
DCR has collaborated with MassGIS to create an on-line viewer of Watershed Protection Act protection zones. Click here for the MassGIS website. Please note that compliance with the WsPA is the property owner's responsibility. DCR encourages you to contact the appropriate field office if you intend to build on, or otherwise alter, a piece of property in the watershed system.
There are a number of exemptions to the restrictions under WsPA. The most common are:
- Uses, structures and facilities lawfully existing as of July 1, 1992;
- Construction of a single-family dwelling on an existing vacant lot;
- Minor changes to an existing structure;
- Division of an owner-occupied existing parcels to create one additional building lot.
See 350 CMR 11.05 for a complete list.
Many exemptions are subject to qualifications. For instance, an expansion is exempt only if it does not degrade water quality. For anything other than an existing activity, therefore, contact DCR (phone numbers are at the end of this page) and make an application even though the activity may be exempt.
Types of WsPA Applications
Advisory Ruling: This type of application gives an informal indication of whether WsPA applies to the proposed activity. To apply for an Advisory Ruling, send a letter to one of the addresses on the back of this brochure and include:
- Description of work proposed;
- Copy of the assessor's map (or sheet and parcel number);
- Copy of the deed showing ownership;
- Copy of plans or surveys, if available; and
- Other relevant information.
Send the letter requesting an Advisory Ruling to the address shown on the back. An advisory ruling usually takes a few days to a few weeks, unless the project is complicated and warrants further review.
Determination of Applicability: This application is to determine whether WsPA applies to the proposed activity, or if the activity might be exempt or otherwise not prohibited. It yields a formal determination, with a 60-day time limit for an answer, which may be recorded at the local Registry of Deeds.
Variance: Apply for a Variance if WsPA does apply but it can be demonstrated that the proposed activity will not impair water quality.
Exemption of a Tributary: Apply for this exemption if WsPA applies, but a tributary or portion of one can be exempted with no significant risk to water quality.
Except for Advisory Rulings, the applications require specific forms. For forms, full text of the regulations, and further information, go to the end of this page.
Coverage of WsPA
WsPA is different from many other environmental regulations because it ties jurisdiction to computerized mapping information gathered from a number of different sources: reservoirs, tributaries, and surface waters, from United States Geological Survey topographic surveys, and floodplains from Federal Emergency Management Agency maps
With this information and assessors’ maps, owners of affected parcels were identified (to the extent possible) and notified in November 1994 that WsPA affects their land. Information of varying accuracy was used, and some parcels were not identified, including:
- Newly subdivided parcels;
- Parcels with bordering vegetated wetlands (determined by Conservation Commission and DEP);
- Some parcels adjacent to surface waters; and
- Some parcels owned by towns or conservation organizations.
We continue to try to make this information as accurate as possible. Please contact DWSP if you are aware of errors.
- Watershed Protection Act Regulations, 350 CMR 11.00
- Massachusetts General Laws ch. 92A 1/2
- Watershed Protection Act Application Forms
- Watershed Protection Act Fact Sheet
- Brochure on Landscaping and the Watershed Protection Act
- Brochure on Horses and the Watershed Protection Act
- Guidance Document for Making Applications Under the Watershed Protection Act file size 1MB
- MassGIS online Watershed Protection Act data viewer
Regarding property in one of these Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River watershed communities:
Write or call:
485 Ware Rd.
Belchertown, MA 01007
(413) 323-6921, x501
Regarding property in one of these Wachusett Reservoir watershed communities:
Write or call:
180 Beaman St.
West Boylston, MA 01583