The purpose of this guide is to outline the specific state legal authorities granted to water commissioners, cities and towns, police, and boards of health who all play roles in ensuring the safety of our drinking water.

The Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 111 section 160 and its Drinking Water Regulations 310 CMR 22.00, has the authority to regulate public water supplies (PWS) in the Commonwealth. MassDEP's authority to regulate PWS's is extended directly to the water commissioners. Water commissioners are the sole governing municipal body with the responsibility for ensuring that a water system has all the required technical, managerial and financial resources for complying with 310 CMR 22.00. This means providing all the necessary resources for sustaining the water supply system from the source to the tap in perpetuity.

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1. Water Commissioner Authority:

  • MGL c. 40 sec. 39E. Management of water system

    This section provides authority to the board of water commissioners to manage, improve and control a waters and property taken, acquired, erected or constructed for a public water supply system.
  • MGL c. 41 sec. 69A. Water commissioners; election; tenure; quorum; vacancies

    This section provides for the election of water commissioners or the authorization of selectmen to act as such. 
  • MGL c. 41 sec. 69B. Water commissioners; powers and duties

    This section vests exclusive responsibility with the water commissioners or the selectmen authorized to act as such for source water quality protection "subject to all lawful by-laws and to such instructions, rules and regulations as the town may from time to time impose by its vote." 
  • MGL c. 111 sec. 173A. Police employed to protect water supply; powers and duties.

    This section vests the powers and duties of police officers to protect source water quality in the cities and towns for which they are employed by the water board or board of water commissioners.
  • Source Water Protection

    Water commissioners have authority under MGL 111 sec. 173A and 173B to examine and protect water supplies and sources of supply and to take appropriate action to protect these. This includes watershed protection. Water commissioners must recognize this responsibility and provide whatever resources are required to operate the system in compliance with MassDEP regulations.

    Thus, the water commissioners or their designees are directly responsible for taking action as required, to protect source water quality. They may also seek indirect assistance through local coordination with municipal boards to assure source water quality protection and preservation. Therefore, water commissioners should be in touch with their: (1) Selectmen, Town Meeting Representatives, and Planning Board on important issues related to source protection zoning bylaws/ordinances and subdivision rules and regulations; (2) Boards of Health on issues related to the control of threats from inappropriate land uses within their watershed through BOH regulations/bylaws/ordinances; and (3) Conservation Commission on issues related to controlling soil erosion from land alteration impacts to surface waters from parcels without vegetative cover.

2. The Law Pertaining to Powers and Responsibilities of Cities and Towns

3. Coordination with Town Boards

  • Boards of Health (controlling existing land uses that threaten water supply sources) MGL c. 111 sec. 122

    This section provides boards of health with general authority to examine, and to protect public health from nuisances and to establish regulations relative to the public health and safety relative thereto.
    Regulations relative to nuisances: examinations. 
  • Town (controlling development of lands from inappropriate land uses) MGL c. 40 sec. 21

    This section provides authority to cities and towns to make ordinances and bylaws which "they may judge most conducive to their welfare, and which shall be binding upon all inhabitants thereof and all persons within their limits." This general authority includes that necessary to develop the necessary by-laws or ordinances related to the control/prohibition of specific land uses which have been determined by DEP (refer to 310 CMR 22.00 - new source approval process) potentially to threaten drinking water sources.
  • Conservation Commissions (controlling runoff to surface water supplies and /or approval of work significant to pubic water supply within the wetlands jurisdiction) MGL c. 131 sec. 40

* This section says that "no person shall remove, fill, dredge or alter any bank, fresh water wetland, ..., creek, river, stream, pond, or lake, or any land under said waters or any land subject to ...flooding, other than in the course of maintaining, repairing or replacing, but not substantially changing or enlarging, an existing and lawfully located structure or facility used in the service of the public and used to provide ...water..., without filling a notice of his intention to so remove, fill, dredge, or alter, including such plans as may be necessary to describe such proposed activity and its effect on the environment and without receiving and complying with an order of conditions and provided all appeal periods have elapsed".

4. Contact Information

For more capacity building guides or more information on how to develop the capacity of your drinking water system contact MassDEP Drinking Water Program as follows:

Water Systems Operations

DWP email address:

Boston / Main Phone Number: 617-292-5770
Michael Maynard at 508-767-2735
Yvette DePeiza at 617-292-5857

WERO Contact: Mike McGrath at 413-755 - 2202
CERO Contact: Michael Maynard at 508-767-2735
NERO Contact: William Zahoruiko at 978-694 - 3232
SERO Contact: Michael Maynard at 508-767-2735

This guide is based on an EPA small system guide. For a copy of the EPA guide or other EPA information visit the EPA website: Small Public Water Systems and Capacity Development.