Model Water Use Restriction Bylaw/Ordinance Update

MassDEP Water Management Act Program model bylaw

MassDEP developed the Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance to help municipalities and water districts implement seasonal conservation of water supplied by public water systems (PWS). The Model Bylaw also includes options for regulating private wells and in-ground irrigation systems.

Revised Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance – May 1, 2018

Dear Public Water Supplier:

The Department of Environmental Protection has updated the "DEP Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance" to help municipalities and water districts implement seasonal conservation of water supplied by public water systems (PWS). There are now two versions of the model bylaw:

  • The Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance will allow PWS to limit non-essential outdoor water through the declaration of a local "State of Water Supply Conservation", “State of Drought” or "State of Water Supply Emergency" and includes civil fines. It also includes additional language that towns can choose to incorporate into their outdoor water use by-law if they want the ability to regulate outdoor water use from private wells, or if they want to regulate the installation of in-ground irrigation systems.
  • A Basic Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance includes the elements that a town needs in order to comply with the outdoor water use requirements in a Water Management Permit. This model bylaw will allow PWS to limit non-essential outdoor water through the declaration of a local "State of Water Supply Conservation" or a "State of Water Supply Emergency" and includes civil fines.

The purpose of the bylaw is to protect, preserve and maintain public health, safety, welfare and to protect our valuable aquatic resources, including rivers, ponds and wetlands, by enabling a PWS to control pumping from May to October. It allows PWS to comply with the conditions in their Water Management Act Permits and Registrations while providing the flexibility to operate their systems consistent with their specific needs.

The restrictions included in the bylaw include daily and hourly limits on nonessential outdoor watering, hand watering only, outdoor watering bans, and prohibitions on the use of automatic sprinkler systems.

While the model bylaw was written to provide flexibility, individual PWS may choose to enact bylaws more restrictive than those required by Registrations and Permits. The Department suggests that the PWS consider further restricting the number of hours watering may occur, outside the 9AM to 5PM minimum outlined in the model bylaw. For example, suppliers may want to limit watering to two hours per day once or twice per week.

Major elements included in the Model Outdoor Water Use Bylaw/Ordinance include:

  • Providing a definition of Non-essential Outdoor Water Use that includes examples and exceptions.
  • Including a designee of the Board of Water Commissioners who can declare a State of Water Supply Conservation or State of Water Supply Emergency. This avoids any delay in imposing restrictions until the next scheduled board meeting.
  • Prohibiting outdoor watering at a minimum, between 9AM and 5PM. This is consistent with good irrigation practices which seek to avoid irrigation during periods of high evapotranspiration.
  • Removing "odd/even day watering" and replacing it with a limitation on the allowed number of days per week of watering. No more than two days per week is recommended, with the actual number of days and particular hours (outside the 9 am to 5 pm window) to be determined by the Board of Water Commissioners or its designee.
  • Adding an option that would require private well users to abide by restrictions imposed by the community or water district.
  • Adding a definition of a State of Drought and an option to institute additional restrictions during a declared drought.
  • The addition of an optional section at the end of the bylaw that regulates the use of in-ground lawn and garden sprinkler systems.

Those who have adopted the previous model bylaw may wish to amend portions of their existing bylaw to align more closely with the updated model bylaw, or may choose to replace their existing bylaw with all or some of the new model bylaw. PWS should examine the model bylaw closely to determine which sections are most appropriate for their specific circumstances.>

Communities or districts should consider that if private well users are excluded from the bylaw, the PWS customers will be subject to restrictions but their neighbors with private wells will not. This could result in perceived inequities among local citizens and could encourage the drilling of private wells, thus defeating the bylaw's conservation goal.

Section 15 of the model bylaw provides an option for those PWS looking to impose controls on in-ground irrigation systems. This section can be included in the outdoor water use bylaw, or passed as a separate by-law. If Section 15 is adopted as a separate bylaw, it should include the exemptions in Section 4 (items 1. through 5. under the definition Nonessential Outdoor Water Use and the exceptions to nonessential outdoor water use).

The Department believes it is important for municipalities and water districts to consider exemption procedures for the restrictions included within their by-law. The exemptions included in the model bylaw or other exemptions may be appropriate due to the economic or public health impact of water use restrictions on specific industry sectors. At the same time, municipalities and districts should ensure that those granted exemptions are operating in a water efficient manner.

If a PWS is experiencing complex system problems affecting its ability to consistently provide an adequate supply of water, implementing the model by-law may not address the problem. In that case, a declaration of water supply emergency under M.G.L. c.21G, ss. 15-17 should be requested from the Department. After implementation of any state of water supply conservation, the Department by regulation (310 CMR 22.15(8)(a)) must be notified in writing within 14 days of the implementation of restrictions.

The Department makes no representation concerning the legal effect or validity of this model bylaw. Local requirements for adopting by-laws may vary according to the terms of individual municipal charters.


Duane LeVangie
Water Management Act Program Chief

Additional Resources

MassDEP Program Update - August 10, 2015

Many Water Management Act (WMA) permits for public water supply systems (PWSs) include summer restrictions on nonessential outdoor water use. Outdoor water use restrictions will be included in all new and renewed WMA permits. As part of MassDEP's efforts to improve implementation of our programs as technology changes, we are updating our WMA guidance on the implementation of nonessential outdoor water use restrictions to reflect new advances in drip irrigation technology.

Drip irrigation minimizes water lost to overhead evaporation, wind and over spraying or misguided spraying - characteristics indicative of traditional sprinkler systems and overhead irrigation systems. Today’s drip irrigation can provide as much as 90 percent water-use efficiency.

How does a drip irrigation system work? Low pressure water flows through flexible tubing with metered emitters. The tubing can be laid above ground, beside shrubs or flowers, or it can be buried underground or under mulch. Drip irrigation allows for various flow rate and spacing options depending on the needs of the plant material. Soaker hoses are not considered a form of drip irrigation and therefore are not covered in this guidance update.

Drip Irrigation Guidance

MassDEP expects to be revising our Model Water Use Restriction Bylaw/Ordinance in the near future to reflect these revisions.

Contact   for Model Water Use Restriction Bylaw/Ordinance Update

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