The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs developed and adopted the Massachusetts Water Policy in 2004. A key component of that policy is Keeping Water Local, which emphasizes innovative water supply, wastewater, and stormwater techniques to help maintain the natural hydrologic balance in a watershed by reducing water withdrawals and increasing water recharge. Using this approach, MassDEP is implementing and considering a wide variety of means to emphasize Keeping Water Local in accordance with the Massachusetts Water Policy.
In 2010, EEA created the Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI). Comprised of a wide range of stakeholders and supported by staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the SWMI Advisory Committee and Technical Subcommittee advised EEA and its agencies on the development of a water allocation program that satisfies both human and ecological water needs. In November 2012, the Sustainable Water Management Initiative Framework was released.
Massachusetts is considered "water rich" in comparison to other regions of the country. However, Massachusetts' water is not always located in the areas where it is most needed. In many areas of the state, the natural water cycle has been disrupted by the demands for clean water for consumptive use and the need to dispose of wastewater in an environmentally responsible manner. Clean drinking water is often obtained from groundwater wells located in the headwaters of our rivers. The water is used by residences and businesses, and then in many cases discharged to a sewer system that delivers the wastewater to a centralized treatment facility that discharges the treated wastewater some distance away to a mainstem of the river or to the ocean. The naturally occurring phenomenon of groundwater serving as base flow to the smaller streams as they as progress to larger streams and then to rivers has been short circuited, at least in part, by a system of water and wastewater piping. This effect is further compounded in developed areas as the amount of impervious surface area increases. Rainfall that normally recharges ground water and serves as future base flow runs off the developed areas and is captured by storm drains that discharge directly to the river. The Water Resources Commission has classified many rivers and streams throughout the Commonwealth as under high or medium stress due to inadequate flow, and that analysis can be found here: stressed_basins.pdf file size 3MB
How is Mass DEP Working to Keep Water Local?
MassDEP has reviewed and revised many of the regulations that address water withdrawal and water recharge. Many of these regulations have been promulgated and others will soon be going out for public review and comment. The following list of regulations and policies can be found on MassDEP's website.
- Water Management Act - In implementing its permitting decisions and 5-year reviews under the Water Management Act, Mass DEP has developed a Policy and Guidance, which are consistent with the philosophy of Keeping Water Local in the Massachusetts Water Policy. In addition, the standards in the Water Resources Commission's Water Conservation Standards file size 1MB are incorporated as conditions of Water Management Act permits.
- Wastewater/Title 5 - Mass DEP has recently modified the regulations under Title 5, the state environmental code regulating septic systems, to allow for appropriate use of septic systems even when sewer access is available, drip irrigation system techniques, and greater flexibility in implementing cluster aggregation.
- Wastewater/Infiltration/Inflow (I/I) - All wastewater treatment plants with surface water discharge permits (NPDES) now have requirements to implement ongoing Infiltration/Inflow evaluation and removal programs. All communities that transport wastewater to regional treatment plants are being co-permitted under the NPDES program to require I/I programs to minimize impacts to the treatment plant and to reduce the transport of clean water from local areas to the main discharge points.
- State Revolving Fund (SRF) - The guidance for conducting water resources management planning under the financial assistance program, SRF for communities is being revised to include provisions for water supply and stormwater concerns. The revised guidance will allow for greater emphasis on overall total water resources management and, in particular, address the concern of Keeping Water Local. In addition, the rating system for ranking the priority of water resource management projects is being revised to include additional points for projects that address Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, and "Fix-it-First" concerns, and additional emphasis is being given to grants for water conservation projects.
- Stormwater Management - MassDEP has revised its regulations for the stormwater management standards under the Wetlands Protection Act and the Water Quality Certification regulations to require greater water recharge volumes into the ground and encourage Low Impact Development (LID) techniques.
- Wastewater/Ground Water Discharge - MassDEP has revised the Ground Water Discharge Permit regulations to incorporate the Private Sewage Treatment requirements allowing greater flexibility when considering local treatment and discharge of wastewater to the ground. The Department also modified the regulations to allow for local treatment and discharge facilities even Low Impact Development (LID) when sewer access is available.
- Wastewater/Reuse - MassDEP is considering adopting regulations for wastewater reuse, which would update the current interim guidelines to allow greater flexibility in the types of reuse that can be permitted, as well as when and where reuse can be implemented. Look for these proposed regulations to also be available for public comment this summer.
- MassDEP's 319 Nonpoint Source Grant Program encourages the use of low impact development (LID) techniques and principles wherever possible. Low impact development techniques seek to mimic a site's pre-development hydrology by using design techniques that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate, and detain runoff close to its source. These source reduction techniques, used in conjunction with conventional devices, can minimize the quantity of runoff and type of treatment required at the end of the pipe. Examples and more information about low impact development can be found on EOEEA's website.
What Can You Do to Keep Water Local?
There are many things that you can do every day to keep water local to your watershed. Water conservation is something everyone can do and here are just a few examples.
In Your Home
- Install water efficient fixtures and appliances.
- When washing dishes by hand, don't let the water run while rinsing.
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full and you could save 1000 gallons a month.
- Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap for cold drinks.
- Check your water bill and meter to track your water usage.
- When you clean your fish tank, use the water you've drained on your plants.
- Do one thing each day that will save water. Even if the savings are small, every drop counts.
In Your Yard
- Reduce the amount of water used for lawn and landscape maintenance. Lawn and landscape watering is a substantial source of summertime water consumption in many areas of the state and is a non-essential use of water compared to water used for public health and safety purposes. The Water Resources Commission has published guidance addressing this issue: Guide to Lawn & Landscape Water Conservation
- Consider installing rain barrels for gathering water for landscaping use.
- Find out about xeriscaping! This gardening technique saves water by using drought-resistant plants, soil amendments, and using mulch to keep moisture in the ground instead of evaporating into the air.
- Direct downspouts and other runoff towards shrubs and trees.
In Your Community
- Support local efforts to implement Low Impact Development (LID) through bylaws and programs.
- Support local efforts to carry out water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance that minimizes water loss through leak detection programs for water mains and keeping groundwater and rainfall out of leaky sewers through I/I evaluation and removal programs.
- Support local efforts to carry out better operation and maintenance of on-site wastewater management systems so that wastewater can continue to be discharged locally, and the need for sewering to centralized treatment plants is minimized.
- Join your local watershed association. Take an active part in protecting your watershed's resources by volunteering to help monitor water quality and quantity in your local lakes, ponds, and streams.
- Encourage your school system and local government to help develop and promote a water conservation ethic among children and adults.
This is just a short list of things that you can do to help Keep Water Local in your community. More information on any of these items can be found at the following websites: