Policy on Salt Water Withdrawals

The purpose of this policy is to clearly outline the regulatory requirements which apply to the withdrawal of saline or brackish water pursuant to the Water Management Act, MGL,C. 21G, and the regulations promulgated pursuant thereto at 310 CMR 36.00.

This is an update of the policy, dated September 19, 1987, issued by the Water Management Program regarding withdrawals of saline or brackish water in excess of the threshold established by the Water Management Act, MGL,C. 21G. Examples of the purposes of salt water withdrawals may include, but are not limited to, aquaculture, fish processing, desalinization for water supply purposes, marine science laboratory analyses, beach dewatering for erosion control purposes, and non-contact cooling waters. However, non-contact cooling water is generally regulated as a nonconsumptive use pursuant to the Water Management Act Regulations at 310 CMR 36.38.

Statement of Jurisdiction

The Water Management Act regulates the withdrawal of water in excess of the threshold volume "to ensure an adequate volume and quality of water for all citizens of the commonwealth, both present and future.", MGL,C. 21G, Section 3. The majority of these withdrawals are of fresh surface water or fresh groundwater, and are regulated by the Act. However, certain withdrawals of brackish or saline surface waters or groundwaters are also made, which are not regulated under the Act in accordance with this policy.


Withdrawals from a virtually unlimited water source (the ocean) has been determined to have little potential for hydrologic impact on water management in the Commonwealth. The Department has determined that regulation of these withdrawals is not within the spirit of the Water Management Act, and should not be regulated under the Act.

The registration regulations for the Water Management Act, define a water source as one of the 27 freshwater river basins. The Department did not require registration statements to be filed for saline withdrawals, nor does the Department require persons withdrawing saline water for consumptive uses in excess of the threshold volume to file permit applications pursuant to the Act.
Withdrawals of fresh water from ground or surface water sources in quantities greater than the threshold volume are regulated by the Act.

Requirements for a Determination of Non-Applicability

The Department will not require water withdrawal permits for any withdrawals where the water to be withdrawn has a specific conductivity greater than 1,000 umhos/cm.

The following ranges for measurement of specific conductivity will be used to determine the applicability of the Act.

Fresh water: 1 to 1,000 umhos/cm
brackish water: 1,000 to 10,000 umhos/cm
saline water: 10,000 to 100,000 umhos/cm

Where questions exist, the Department will make a determination on a case-by-case basis about whether a particular withdrawal of water located within the ocean, or any harbor, embayment, or estuary, or within groundwater adjacent to any of these surface waters requires a permit. Persons withdrawing water in excess of the threshold volume within any of said areas who desire such a determination shall request from the Department a determination of applicability of the Act. Said requests shall be made in letter form, and shall include a description or map depicting the exact location and nature of the withdrawal. Said request shall also include the results of water samples from the withdrawal location. Water samples shall be taken at high tide and tested for specific conductivity by a certified laboratory. Test results shall be reported in the units umhos/cm. The Department will review the test results, and make a determination of the applicability of the Act based on the above-noted ranges of specific conductivity. The Department's determination shall be made in writing, and shall be issued to the person making the request.

In cases where the Department determines that the water to be withdrawn will be brackish or saline, no permit will be required under the Water Management Act. Where the Department determines that the withdrawal will be of fresh water, the permitting requirements of MGL, c21G and 310 CMR 36.00 will apply.

Contact   for Policy on Salt Water Withdrawals

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