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Guide Watershed Planning Program

The Watershed Planning Program works to secure the benefits of clean water in Massachusetts.

Program Overview

The WPP is a statewide program with a mission to protect, enhance and restore the quality and value of the waters of the Commonwealth. The program consists of environmental scientists, biologists, engineers and planners engaged in various activities required by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and associated regulations (see CWA SummaryCWA and the Water Quality Standards Regulation). The CWA directs states to monitor and report on the condition of their water resources. Documentation of the condition of surface waters as to whether they are healthy or impaired is essential to the Nation's water pollution control effort. It is the principal means by which we evaluate water quality, create plans necessary to restore and protect our surface waters, and assess progress toward our water quality goals. WPP personnel work out of the Department’s Central Regional Office in Worcester, a strategic location affording the best statewide access to conduct surface water monitoring activities.

WPP is responsible for:  

  • Developing and implementing the Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS) regulations (314 CMR 4.00) pursuant to the CWA
  • Monitoring the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of surface waters in the Commonwealth
  • Managing and reporting results of surface water quality monitoring data
  • Assessing surface water quality conditions and attainment of existing and designated uses as defined in the SWQS
  • Protecting high quality waters and developing plans to restore impaired surface waters
  • Supporting associated surface water quality programs, such as the nonpoint source (319) and water quality management planning (604(b)) grant programs, watershed-based plans (WBP), and MassDEP’s Watershed-based Planning Tool.

Additional Resources for Program Overview

Development of Standards and Criteria

The Water Quality Standards Section is responsible for developing statewide pollutant criteria and related policies; designating uses and associated classifications for surface waters; and implementing the SWQS regulations (314 CMR 4.00) and policies that restore and prevent the degradation of surface waters. The criteria listed in the SWQS are the foundation for the USEPA’s and MassDEP’s issuance of permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and waterbody health assessments. The Commonwealth is required under the CWA to frequently update the SWQS; a process that includes stakeholder engagement, inter-agency coordination, issuing public notices and conducting public hearings. These standards must then be approved by USEPA before implementation.

Additional Resources for Development of Standards and Criteria

Surface-Water Monitoring

The Monitoring Section conducts environmental monitoring activities that support water management, including the assessment of surface waters, criteria development, the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) and other water management plans. Monitoring program elements include both deterministic (targeted) and probabilistic (random) sampling networks that encompass both rotating watershed monitoring cycles as well as non-rotating, priority-driven schedules. The program deploys sampling probes, assesses habitat, and collects water and biological samples, such as bacteria, algae, fish and macroinvertebrates (e.g., insects, worms, snails, etc.). Data quality is assured through the development and implementation of quality assurance project plans (QAPPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in both the field and laboratory. Final project results are reported in technical reports and memoranda.

Additional Resources for Surface-Water Monitoring

Management of Data and Assessment of Surface Waters

The Data and Assessment Section manages data generated by the WPP. The section also reports to EPA and the public as required by the CWA on the quality of the Commonwealth’s surface waters and whether they support the designated uses (such as recreation, fishing, and aquatic life) assigned to those waters under the SWQS. Surface water quality sampling station locations are described, assigned unique sampling identification codes, and georeferenced. The program’s surface water quality monitoring stations are available as a datalayer at MassGIS, which is updated periodically (see MassGIS: Water Quality Monitoring Stations). The program validates the monitoring data, including performing quality assurance reviews, and finalized data are stored in electronic database files. These data are made available through direct requests to MassDEP staff, electronic database files on WPP servers, and through MassDEP’s website.

Validated water quality monitoring data, as well as quality-assured data from outside groups, are used by the WPP to report on the state’s surface water quality conditions. The Assessment group develops the Massachusetts Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (CALM) Guidance Manual which describes data evaluation procedures. WPP analysts evaluate whether or not the designated uses of surface waters are supported. The assessments are reported to the USEPA and the public in the form of an Integrated List of Waters report (IR Report) every two years. A georeferenced interactive mapping tool displays the current surface waters assessed and their associated status. These data are also made available to the public as an ArcMap datalayer (see MassGIS datalayer).

Additional Resources for Management of Data and Assessment of Surface Waters

Development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)

The TMDL Section analyzes surface water data, develops land use and water quality models, and performs technical analyses to determine the maximum amount of any pollutant that can be discharged to surface water and still meet water quality standards (TMDL development). TMDLs are required under Section 303(d) of the CWA for waterbodies that are not meeting designated uses, also referred to as Category 5 Impaired waters. Program tasks include the identification and quantification of all discharges to surface waters and the development of implementation plans to manage those discharges. As part of TMDL development, WPP conducts public meetings and responds to comments, revises the TMDLs as necessary, and submits the plans to EPA for approval.

Additional Resources for Development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)

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