MassDEP's Division of Watershed Management (DWM) is making adjustments to its surface water monitoring program in an effort to more efficiently focus limited resources in the field and laboratory, and to respond to evolving requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for surface water data and related information to support reporting under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Since 1992, the DWM has carried out surface water monitoring activities during the second year of its five-year phased program for watershed-based assessment, TMDL development, permitting,outreach and nonpoint source pollution control. While the DWM plans to continue monitoring in accordance with a five-year rotating schedule, the assemblage of noncontiguous river basins and coastal drainage areas that have been the focus of monitoring each year up until now will, henceforth, be grouped according to region. The new arrangement is depicted on the map below.

Recently, a number of circumstances have contributed to the need for the DWM to reconfigure the watershed alignment. The previous arrangement was established almost twenty years ago in an effort to evenly distribute regulatory permits and functions (such as NPDES and water-withdrawal permits) that would be processed each year throughout MassDEP's four regional offices. That five-year cycle was also designed to help focus restoration activities initiated through the former Massachusetts Watershed Initiative. While equalizing the administrative workload from year to year, this regimen did not provide an equitable distribution of water resources to be monitored. For example, the percentage of total river miles in each year of the five year-cycle represented by the previous watershed groupings ranged from approximately 15 to 30%, resulting in a disproportionate allocation of monitoring resources from year to year. In addition, resources would have to be devoted to a number of different areas of the state each year resulting in much inefficiency. Moreover, it has become evident that the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), the issuance of permits and other administrative program elements, by their very nature, did not always fit discretely into one year intervals. So, as time went on, watershed management efforts became less synchronous with the five-year schedule as originally envisioned. Surface water monitoring, by contrast, was the one activity that the DWM continued to perform in accordance with the rotating watershed plan.

Further impetus to realign the watersheds was recently provided when the DWM initiated, at the request of EPA, the design of a statistically valid water quality survey of Massachusetts' shallow streams. EPA has been strongly encouraging all states nationwide to adopt this approach for one or more water body types in each state. The probabilistic survey design provides for the assessment of 100% of waters in a target population by monitoring a random sample of those waters. In 2009 EPA announced that, beginning in 2011, states that did not include probabilistic design as a component of their water monitoring programs would no longer be eligible for supplemental CWA Section 106 grant funding, which provides important financial support for state monitoring efforts. In response to EPA's requirement, Massachusetts has developed a plan for a five-year, statistically-valid survey of wadable streams to commence in 2010. The statistical validity of the survey design rests, in part, with the new watershed configuration, which balances the number of river miles represented by each group (roughly 20% each year), and reduces the natural and biological variation between sampling sites.

Finally, today's economic climate and diminishing resources dictate that monitoring programs continue to identify and implement measures to minimize costs and increase efficiency. The ultimate goal of the DWM is to expend about 35% of annual monitoring resources on the probabilistic monitoring effort to satisfy the reporting requirements of CWA Section 305(b) while allotting the remaining 65% to deterministic or targeted data collection efforts such as the identification of pollution sources or the development of TMDLs. This can be accomplished only by combining contiguous watersheds into regional groups where available monitoring resources can fulfill as many monitoring elements as possible. DWM will benefit from more flexibility in survey design, and will reduce mileage and personnel costs by deploying staff more efficiently and concentrating laboratory support in one area of the state each year. When creating the new alignment, care was taken to minimize the number of years that will elapse between monitoring years for any particular watershed. In fact, although a few watersheds would be pushed back one or two years, some watersheds will actually be monitored sooner than five years after the most recent monitoring year (see map and table, below). All watersheds would be back on a five year schedule after completion of the first new cycle. Furthermore, the new watershed alignment will not alter the DWM's general approach for gathering data and information for watershed assessment, nor will it jeopardize its capacity to supplement its own monitoring data with credible data from other parties, such as Federal and State agencies and citizen monitoring groups. Instead, it is anticipated that the regionalization of the monitoring efforts will offer new opportunities for collaboration among all interested parties.

DWM understands that change is not easy and that any change is not ideal for all parties concerned. However, DWM finds this realignment process necessary to meet the challenges of our current economic times and to address new mandates from the Federal government. Any questions regarding this matter may be directed to Kim Groff, Division of Watershed Management, at 508-767-2876.

The Realigned Five-Year Monitoring Rotation

Five-Year Basin Cycle Map  pdf format of Five-Year Basin Cycle Map

New watershed groupings, the estimated perennial river miles in each watershed and group and the years between monitoring events in the first cycle of the new alignment.

BasinPerennial River Miles(1)Basin GroupLast MonitoredNext Sampling Year in Old CycleNext Sampling Year in New CycleGap
North Coastal146Northeast2007201220103
Total Miles
Ten Mile92Central2007201220114
Total Miles
Total Miles
Boston Harbor275Southeast2009201420134
Buzzards Bay495Southeast2005201020138
Cape Cod239Southeast2009201420134
Narragansett/Mt Hope Bay186Southeast2009201420144
South Coastal274Southeast2006201120137
Total Miles
Total Miles
(1) Perennial river mile estimate is based on the 1:24,000 National Hydrography Dataset (NHD).