Massachusetts Water Policy (2004)

Learn about Massachusetts' water policy established in 2004.


Although Massachusetts is a relatively water-rich state, it has water resource-related challenges. Rainfall is variable both spatially and temporally. The landscape dictates how water flows across the surface, how much flows in rivers and streams and is retained in water bodies, and how much is absorbed by the ground, ultimately recharging underground reservoirs. Impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots, and rooftops, slow the absorption of water by the soil, thereby reducing groundwater recharge while increasing the quantity, flow rate, and debris and pollutants in stormwater.

Since people, businesses, wildlife, and natural lands all need adequate water, the Commonwealth must follow sustainable water policy guidelines to support ecological needs while:

  • meeting the requirements of regional economic growth
  • supporting high-quality jobs
  • increasing housing affordability
  • enhancing tourism
  • maintaining a high quality of life that includes recreational opportunities and vital habitats.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs addresses this challenge in the 2004 Water Policy that both promotes wise management and efficient use of our water resources and provides a framework of principles, goals, and actions for managing water in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Water Policy was developed after extensive discussion with a task force that included representatives from environmental groups, industry, public works, local, state and federal government. The Task Force conducted focused discussions on key water-related issues that face Massachusetts and recommended a process for protecting water resources. The Policy recommends:

  • an effective partnership with local and regional stakeholders
  • protection of critical water resources
  • streamlining specific regulatory and permitting processes


In brief, the Policy makes the following ten major recommendations:

  1. Create a "Stress Framework" with increasingly stringent performance standards, recommendations and requirements as a community's basin approaches highly stressed.
  2. Develop clear guidance and planning materials to help communities meet existing and future water uses by developing watershed solutions based on water budgets.
  3. Pursue legislation requiring the use of enterprise accounts to fund operation and maintenance of infrastructure, stormwater mitigation and other water resource protection efforts.
  4. Increase treated wastewater recharge and reuse.
  5. Promote stormwater recharge close to its site of origin.
  6. Advance effective management of water supplies.
  7. Protect and restore critical land and water resources.
  8. Promote sustainable development, timely maintenance of old infrastructure, and the protection of priority water resources through refinements to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
  9. Develop clear guidance and planning materials (including the Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit) to help municipalities, developers and consultants advance development that reduces negative impacts on the environment.
  10. Take advantage of cooperation within state government to advance more effective planning with Mass Highways and other development agencies.

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