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Guide 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. 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 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 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. To navigate to the current SWQS and materials describing proposed revisions to the SWQS, please see the first link under Additional Resources. To navigate to materials concerning aspects of the SWQS that are in review and development, please see the second link below.

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 oversees the 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 physical-chemical and biological data by WPP is planned and guided by program QAPPs and SOPs. Resulting data are critically reviewed for quality, validated and published in Technical Memoranda, as data files (see Additional Resources below) and via EPA’s Water Quality Portal ( WPP’s historic surface water quality monitoring stations are available at MassGIS (Water Quality Monitoring Stations).

WPP’s water quality monitoring data, as well as quality-assured data from outside groups (see Additional Resources below), are used to report on the health of the Commonwealth’s surface waters. Guided by the Massachusetts Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (CALM) Guidance Manual (see Additional Resources below), assessment decisions are made to estimate whether or not the designated uses as defined in the Surface Water Quality Standards (such as recreation, fishing, and aquatic life support) are being met. 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 (Integrated Lists of Waters & Related Reports). The current status of surface water assessments is also available as an ArcMap datalayer (see MassGIS datalayer) and as a mapping tool (see

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)