Watershed Planning Program

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

Table of Contents

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 and whether they are healthy or impaired relative to their designated uses. WPP is responsible for developing surface water quality standards, monitoring and evaluating water quality, and creating plans to restore and protect surface waters. 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) regulation (314 CMR 4.00) pursuant to the CWA
  • Monitoring the chemical, physical, 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
  • Support of water quality restoration efforts through watershed planning using watershed-based plans (WBP) and MassDEP's Watershed-Based Planning Tool
  • Reducing nonpoint source pollution through the Water Quality Management Planning (604(b)) and the Nonpoint Source Competitive (319) grant programs.

Surface Water Quality Standards

The Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS) Section is responsible for developing statewide pollutant criteria and related policies; designating uses and associated classifications for surface waters; and implementing the Massachusetts SWQS regulation (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 MassDEP’s activities under the Clean Water Act (CWA), including water quality monitoring and assessments, and the development of plans to restore impaired surface waters. Water quality-based effluent limits for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and Surface Water Discharge permits are also derived from water quality criteria in the SWQS. 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. The first link under Additional Resources leads to the current and proposed SWQS. Materials concerning the review and development of the SWQS, are provided by the second link.

Additional Resources   for Surface Water Quality Standards

Surface Water Quality 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 (TMDLs), and other water management plans. Monitoring program elements include both deterministic (targeted) and probabilistic (random) sampling networks that encompass both rotating watershed monitoring cycles and 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 Quality Monitoring

Data Management and Water Quality Assessment

The Data and Assessment Section oversees WPP’s data systems and performs CWA 305(b) statewide and site-specific water quality assessments and 303(d) listing of impaired waters, for biennial reporting to EPA and the public.

Annual collection of quality-controlled chemical, physical, and biological data by WPP is planned and guided by program quality assurance project plans and standard operating procedures (QAPPs and SOPs). Resulting data are critically reviewed for quality, validated, and published as data files, transmitted to EPA’s Water Quality Portal (https://www.waterqualitydata.us/), and provided via an interactive data viewer (see Additional Resources below).

WPP uses water quality monitoring data, as well as quality-assured data from outside groups, to report on the health of the Commonwealth’s surface waters. Guided by the Massachusetts Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (CALM) Guidance Manual, WPP makes assessment decisions to estimate whether the designated uses as defined in the Surface Water Quality Standards (such as recreation, fishing, and aquatic life support) are being met. (See Additional Resources below.) Assessment of water quality conditions in the Commonwealth are based on both probabilistic (statewide) and targeted (site-specific) approaches. These assessments are reported to the USEPA and the public in the form of an Integrated List of Waters report (IR Report) every two years. The status of surface water assessments and impaired waters listings for the latest and previous cycles is  available using the Water Quality Data Viewer.

Additional Resources   for Data Management and Water Quality Assessment

Total Maximum Daily Loads

The Total Maximum Daily Load (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 Total Maximum Daily Loads

Nonpoint Source Pollution

The Nonpoint Source (NPS) Section coordinates the restoration of surface and groundwater impaired by NPS pollution and the protection of water quality in healthy watersheds. NPS pollution comes from rainfall or melting snow (“runoff”) moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and transports natural and human-made pollutants such as bacteria, nutrients, fertilizers, and pesticides, and eventually deposits them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. Under the provisions of the CWA, MassDEP has developed a Nonpoint Source Management Program Plan, an integrated strategy for preventing, controlling, and reducing nonpoint source pollution in the Commonwealth. A core component of this program is collaboration with other government programs and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to implement the strategy. The NPS Program manages two water-quality-related grant programs as part of implementation: the NPS Competitive Grants Program (319) and the Water Quality Management Planning Grant Program (604(b)).

Additional Resources   for Nonpoint Source Pollution

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