The main strategy employed by MassDEP to protect and maintain water quality is the implementation of the Watershed Management Approach. A phased holistic program for watershed-based assessment, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) evaluation, permitting, and implementation has been adopted by MassDEP's Bureau of Resource Protection (BRP) to address its Watershed Management goals. The program runs through a course of five watershed management steps or phases, after which the process begins again. The Watershed Management Approach, as originally conceived, was to allocate one year to each phase of the program, thus creating a five-year rotating watershed management cycle. This goal has been difficult to achieve, however, because the science and practice of watershed management is inherently complex, resource-intensive and time-consuming and project demand often outpaces the funding and resources available. Nonetheless, the program moves forward in a step-wise manner that is intended to be iterative with the ultimate goal of protecting waterbodies that meet water quality standards and restoring impaired waterbodies.
During the first phase existing water resource information is reviewed and water quality issues are identified to establish the basis for planning in the future. This effort includes reviewing local capacity and support and identifying data gaps that need to be filled. MassDEP works with the watershed organizations, outside agencies, environmental groups, and the general public in order to gain insight with respect to water quality goals and objectives for Massachusetts surface waters.
Phase 2 consists of water quality monitoring surveys that collect physical, chemical and biological water-resource data. These activities are implemented in accordance with a five-year watershed schedule. The goal is to fill information gaps by collecting important data on Massachusetts surface waters to identify impaired waters, develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and ultimately make enforcement and permitting decisions. The scope of these field assessments varies depending upon the resources available and the water quality issues within each watershed. In some cases MassDEP works with volunteer groups that have the capacity to assist in data collection activities.
The third phase of the Watershed Management Approach involves a comprehensive analysis of the data and information assembled during the previous phases as a prerequisite to implementing corrective actions aimed at bringing impaired waters into compliance with water quality standards. As part of this analysis, MassDEP completes a watershed assessment that incrementally evaluates water quality on a segment-by-segment basis. These assessments identify impaired waters and, where possible, the causes and sources of those impairments. They also form the basis for the preparation of the biennial Massachusetts Integrated List of Waters required by sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Category 5 of the Integrated List identifies the waterbodies requiring a TMDL analysis. Finally, data gaps are identified and recommendations are made for additional data collection activities for MassDEP, other federal and state agencies, and volunteer groups.
The implementation of control strategies for correcting water quality impairments constitutes Phase 4 of the Watershed Management Approach. MassDEP undertakes several activities aimed at the reduction of pollutant loads to surface waters including TMDL development, permit issuance and grant awards. MassDEP's Watershed Action Plans direct these activities in priority waters to maximize the benefit to the resource. TMDLs are developed (in accordance with the TMDL strategy) and meetings are held with permittees before final NPDES wastewater and Water Management Act water withdrawal permits are re-issued. Dischargers in waters exhibiting nonpoint pollution problems are targeted for implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and other control measures which may be funded by nonpoint source grants administered in accordance with section 319 of the Clean Water Act.
The final phase of the Watershed Management Approach is an evaluation of how successfully the Watershed Management Approach has addressed the water resource issues so that adjustments may be made during the next watershed management cycle.