April 29, 2009
Re: Revised Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance
Dear Public Water Supplier:
The Department of Environmental Protection has developed the "DEP Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance" to help municipalities and water districts implement seasonal conservation of water supplied by public water systems (PWS). The Model Bylaw also includes options for regulating private wells and in-ground irrigation systems. It will allow PWS to limit non-essential outdoor water through the declaration of a local "State of Water Supply Conservation" or a "State of Water Supply Emergency"; both include civil fines.
The purpose of the by-law is to protect, preserve and maintain public health, safety, welfare and to protect our valuable aquatic resources, including rivers, ponds and wetlands, by enabling a PWS to control pumping from May to October. It allows PWS to comply with the conditions in their Water Management Act Permits and Registrations while providing the flexibility to operate their systems consistent with their specific needs.
The restrictions included in the by-law include daily and hourly limits on nonessential outdoor watering, hand watering only, outdoor watering bans, and prohibitions on the use of automatic sprinkler systems.
While the Model Bylaw was written to provide flexibility and to include the minimum conditions of Water Management Act Registrations and Permits, individual PWS may choose to enact bylaws more restrictive than those required by Registrations and Permits. The Department suggests that the PWS consider further restricting the number of hours watering may occur, outside the 9AM to 5PM minimum outlined in the Model Bylaw. For example, suppliers may want to limit watering to two hours per day once or twice per week.
This model bylaw replaces the model bylaw previously developed by the Department. The major changes include:
- Adding an option that would require private well users to abide by restrictions imposed by the community or water district.
- Providing a definition of Non-essential Outdoor Water Use that includes examples and exceptions.
- Including a designee of the Board of Water Commissioners who can declare a State of Water Supply Conservation or State of Water Supply Emergency. This avoids any delay in imposing restrictions until the next scheduled board meeting.
- Prohibiting outdoor watering at a minimum, between 9AM and 5PM. This is consistent with good irrigation practices which seek to avoid irrigation during periods of high evapotranspiration.
- Removing "odd/even day watering" and replacing it with a limitation on the allowed number of days per week of watering. No more than two days per week is recommended, with the actual number of days and particular hours (outside the 9 am to 5 pm window) to be determined by the Board of Water Commissioners or its designee.
- The addition of an optional section at the end of the bylaw that regulates the use of in-ground lawn and garden sprinkler systems.
Those who have adopted the previous model bylaw may wish to amend portions of their existing bylaw to align more closely with the updated model bylaw, or may choose to replace their existing bylaw with all or some of the new model bylaw.
The Model Bylaw has been drafted to ensure a PWS can comply with the requirements of their Water Management permit or registration, and all PWS should consider adopting it. However, some suppliers may wish to adopt only portions of the new model bylaw. For example, an urban PWS may not have a need to adopt the private well and/or irrigation system portions of the model bylaw. PWS should examine the model bylaw closely to determine which sections are most appropriate for their specific circumstances.
PWS may also want to regulate outdoor water use from private wells. Communities or districts should consider that if private well users are excluded from the bylaw, the PWS customers will be subject to restrictions but their neighbors with private wells will not. This could result in perceived inequities among local citizens and could encourage the drilling of private wells, thus defeating the bylaw's conservation goal.
Section 13 of the Model Bylaw provides an option for those PWS looking to impose controls on in-ground irrigation systems. This section can be included in the outdoor water use bylaw, or passed as a separate by-law. If Section 13 is adopted as a separate bylaw, it should include the exemptions in Section 4 (items 1. through 5. under the definition Nonessential Outdoor Water Use and the exceptions to nonessential outdoor water use).
The Department believes it is important for municipalities and water districts to consider exemption procedures for the restrictions included within their by-law. The exemptions included in the Model Bylaw or other exemptions may be appropriate due to the economic or public health impact of water use restrictions on specific industry sectors. At the same time, municipalities and districts should ensure that those granted exemptions are operating in a water efficient manner.
If a PWS is experiencing complex system problems affecting its ability to consistently provide an adequate supply of water, implementing the model by-law may not address the problem. In that case, a declaration of water supply emergency under M.G.L. c.21G, ss. 15-17 should be requested from the Department. After implementation of any state of water supply conservation, the Department by regulation (310 CMR 22.15(8)(a)) must be notified in writing within 14 days of the implementation of restrictions.
The Department makes no representation concerning the legal effect or validity of this Model Bylaw. Local requirements for adopting by-laws may vary according to the terms of individual municipal charters.
Water Management Act Program Chief
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