Climate Preparedness for Water Resources

What MassDEP is doing to help the Commonwealth address the potential impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, changes in our precipitation frequency, and air and water temperatures.

Table of Contents

Emergency Response & Climate Change

Extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase due to climate change, typically contribute to spills and other releases of oil and hazardous materials to the environment. Flooding causes waste and fuel storage tanks to breach, and whenever our transportation infrastructure is impacted by extreme weather there is an increased risk of spills from trucks and trains that transport harmful materials. The Emergency Response Program at MassDEP responds to releases and threats of release of oil and hazardous materials to the environment on a 24/7 basis. The Emergency Response Program’s actions include approving, directing, and otherwise ensuring that adequate response actions are taken to contain the incident/spill, and in certain cases MassDEP will deploy its Field Assessment & Support Team (FAST) mobile response unit and/or activate a state-funded contractor for deployment anywhere in the state within 2 hours of being notified. More information on the agency’s emergency-response capabilities follows.

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Readying our Water Infrastructure

Many of the Commonwealth’s drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities are gravity-fed and therefore located at low elevations, especially along the Commonwealth’s 1500-mile coastline. Although this reduces the expense of pumping large volumes of water, it also makes such facilities more vulnerable to coastal and inland flooding during extreme storm events. Predicted sea-level rise, storm surges, and increased frequency of flooding along rivers and streams due to climate change could severely impact operation of water treatment facilities, pump stations, and flows within water/sewer lines.

In Massachusetts, the resulting impact could be significant. Approximately 79 percent of the state’s 6.5 million residents discharge 785 million gallons of treated sewage into the state's waters each day through over 20,000 miles of pipe and 126 treatment facilities. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant alone treats an average of 350 million gallons of sewage per day from about 2.1 million people in 43 metro Boston communities. In addition, maintaining infrastructure associated with potable water is critical to the public health and safety of Massachusetts residents. Approximately 95 percent of the 6.5 million residents living in Massachusetts obtain their drinking water from one of the state's 531 community public water supply systems.

Climate change adaptation planning for Massachusetts drinking water and wastewater utilities

This project, which was sponsored by MassDEP through Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), focused on how MassDEP can provide assistance to water utilities for adapting to climate-change effects such as sea-level rise, an increase in storm intensity, and rising temperatures. Through interviews with MassDEP water experts, water associations and utilities, a team of students from WPI identified ways MassDEP can assist utilities in adapting to changing weather conditions. The final deliverable is a list of recommendations and a risk-assessment tool that MassDEP can provide to utilities in need of protecting themselves against potential weather-related threats. To see the full report and the tool, please visit the WPI.  A synopsis of the project can be viewed in the presentation linked below.

Zero-Net Energy at Water and Wastewater Treatment Facilities

High energy consumption at water and wastewater treatment facilities prompted this project from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Students developed a methodology to achieve energy independence at three selected water & wastewater treatment facilities in Pepperell, Southbridge, and Millis, Massachusetts. This report serves as a template that can be applied for analysis of other treatment facilities.

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Drinking Water Safety & Climate Change

Extreme weather events, sea-level rise, changes in our precipitation frequency and air and water temperatures, all intensified by climate change, can have a significant impact on our water supplies. It is important for public water suppliers to assess, plan for, and adapt to our changing climate, to ensure their ability to deliver clean and safe drinking water to their customers.

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Preparing Coastal Waterfront Structures

Chapter 91

Efforts to assess and mitigate the impacts from sea level rise (SLR) on waterfront structures are underway, beginning with a review of our Chapter 91 regulations. Through regulatory revisions, MassDEP would like to incentivize efforts to enhance the resiliency of existing licensed water-dependent and non-water dependent structures and fill, as well as establish standards for new structures subject to Chapter 91 licensing requirements. An advisory group, consisting of members of state agencies (MassDEP, CZM, DCR, MDOT), NAIOP, the Mass Marine Trades Association, the insurance industry and others, met twice. The group identified the need to establish, for project planning purposes, thresholds for elevation or the degree to which flood-proofing should occur to help protect against SLR predicted for the year 2100 (current models predict SLR will be 0.7 to 6.5 feet). MassDEP is looking closely at CZM’s document titled "Sea Level Rise: Understanding and Applying Trends and Future Scenarios for Analysis and Planning" to determine what actions are appropriate to accommodate predicted SLR.

CZM StormSmart Coasts Program

Providing local decision makers with information on erosion, flooding, storms, and sea level rise and helping them connect and collaborate: The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) developed the StormSmart Coasts program to:

  1. Assist communities and people working and living on the coast by providing information, strategies, and tools to help address challenges arising from erosion, flooding, storms, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts.
  2. Promote effective management of coastal landforms, such as beaches and dunes.


An advisory group has been organized and will begin meeting soon to discuss revisions to the Wetlands Protection Act Regulations. Specifically, the group will develop performance standards for “Land Subject to Coastal Storm Flowage,” a.k.a. the coastal floodplain. Current literature and the state of the science will be reviewed, stakeholder interests will be identified, and recommendations of a previous advisory group on this topic will be considered for adoption or revision. A more detailed list of actions and a schedule will be developed when the group begins meeting.

Wetlands Flood information

U.S. EPA Flood Protection page

  1. How coastal wetlands can reduce flooding and erosion
  2. Where wetlands are proving to be an economic asset

Additional Resources

Date published: June 27, 2018
Last updated: June 27, 2018

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