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Watershed Protection Act

This law regulates land use and activities to protect the drinking water supply of over 3 million people.

The Watershed Protection Act (WsPA) regulates land use and activities within critical areas of the Quabbin Reservoir, Ware River and Wachusett Reservoir watersheds for the purpose of protecting the source supply of drinking water that is treated and distributed by the MA Water Resources Authority. The law is administered by DCR's Division of Water Supply Protection. The WsPA applies only to specific towns in the DCR watershed system.

Please note that compliance with the WsPA is the property owner's responsibility. DCR encourages you to contact the appropriate field office if you intend to build on or alter a piece of property, or make changes to an existing structure, in the watershed system.

 

Table of Contents

Towns Affected by the WsPA

Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River Watershed Communities

These Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River watershed communities have properties regulated by the WsPA: Athol, Barre, Belchertown, Hardwick, Hubbardston, New Salem, Oakham, Orange, Pelham, Petersham, Phillipston, Rutland, Shutesbury, Templeton, Ware, Wendell, and Westminster.

WsPA information, contact:
Quabbin/Ware Region
485 Ware Rd.
Belchertown, MA 01007
(413) 323-6921
allan.rantala@mass.gov

Towns in the Quabbin and Ware watersheds affected by the Watershed Protection Act
Towns affected by the Watershed Protection Act in the Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River Watersheds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wachusett Reservoir Watershed Communities

These Wachusett Reservoir watershed communities have properties regulated by the WsPA: Boylston, Clinton, Holden, Leominster, Paxton, Princeton, Sterling, West Boylston, and Worcester.

For WsPA information, contact:
DCR Division of Water Supply Protection
Wachusett/Sudbury Region
180 Beaman St.
West Boylston, MA 01583
(508) 792-7806 x 41839
Bernadette.DeBlander2@mass.gov

 

Towns affected by the Watershed Protection Act in the Wachusett Reservoir Watershed
Towns Affected by the Watershed Protection Act in the Wachusett Reservoir Watershed

 

Basic WsPA Information

Land use and development can affect the quality of nearby streams, which then flow into reservoirs and other sources of water supply. The amount and types of pollutants entering a steam vary based on the:

  • Type of development
  • Density
  • Amount of paved surface
  • Proximity to a stream

Often it is desirable to preserve a buffer zone beside open water, or limit impervious surface over an aquifer.  Physical conditions on the land, however, may allow for different rules due to particular settings.

    Protection Zones and Restrictions

    Watershed Protection Act Protection Zones
    WsPA Protection Zones

    Two areas are protected in different ways under the WsPA.

    Within 400 feet of the reservoirs and 200 feet of tributaries and surface waters (the "Primary Protection Zone"), any alteration is prohibited (313 CMR 11.04(3)(a)) . "Alteration" includes a variety of activities, such as:

    • Construction
    • Excavation
    • Grading
    • Paving
    • Dumping

    Generation, storage, disposal, or discharge of pollutants is also prohibited in the Primary Zone.

    Between 200 and 400 feet of tributaries and surface waters, and on land within flood plains, over some aquifers, and within bordering vegetated wetlands (the "Secondary Protection Zone"), certain activities are specifically prohibited. These include:

    • Storage, disposal or use of toxic, hazardous, and certain other materials
    • Alteration of bordering vegetated wetlands
    • More dense development
    • Thresholds regarding impervious surfaces and septic systems
    • Other activities as specified in 313 CMR 11.04(3)(b)2

    WsPA Regulations and Exemptions

    WsPA Regulations

    The Watershed Protection Act regulations are 313 CMR 11.00.  These regulations were updated in February 2017, including changing the reference number, which used to be 350 CMR 11.00.

    The law was passed by the Massachusetts legislature under Chapter 36 of the Acts of 1992.  The general law can be found at MGL chapter 92A 1/2.

    Exemptions

    There are a number of exemptions to the restrictions under WsPA. The most common are:

    • Uses, structures and facilities lawfully existing as of July 1, 1992.
    • Construction of a single-family dwelling on an existing vacant lot.
    • Minor changes to an existing structure.
    • Division of an existing owner-occupied parcel to create one additional building lot.

    Please go to the regulations, under 313 CMR 11.05, to see the full list of exemptions.

    Additional criteria may be required to obtain an exemption. Please contact DCR to confirm an exemption.

     

    Additional Resources

    WsPA Applications and Forms

    There are several ways to communicate with DCR about projects on your property.  You can obtain an Advisory Ruling by sending a letter describing your proposal to DCR.  The Watershed Protection Act, however, requires specific applications for a Determination of Applicability, Variance, and Exemption of a Tributary. Applications are available below or by contacting the appropriate Division of Water Supply Protection office.  

    Guidance Document for Making Applications Under the Watershed Protection Act provides detailed information about filing these applications with DCR.

    Please note that if you don’t own the property then you will need authorization from the owner allowing you to submit a request for DCR's review of the proposed work.

    Advisory Ruling

    This type of application gives an informal indication of whether the WsPA applies to the proposed activity. To apply for an Advisory Ruling, send a letter to one of the DCR addresses and include:

    • Description of work proposed
    • Copy of the assessor's map (or sheet and parcel number)
    • Copy of the deed showing ownership
    • Copy of plans or surveys, if available
    • Other relevant information

    An advisory ruling usually takes a few days to a few weeks, unless the project is complicated and warrants further review.

    Determination of Applicability

    This application is to determine whether WsPA applies to the proposed activity, or if the activity might be exempt or otherwise not prohibited. It yields a formal determination, with a 60-day time limit for an answer, which may be recorded at the local Registry of Deeds.

    WsPA Form 1: Request For Determination of Applicability (word version)

    WsPA Form 1: Request For Determination of Applicability (pdf version)

    Variance

    A landowner can apply for a Variance from the WsPA if a project does apply but they can demonstrate that the proposed activity will not impair water quality. There are specific timing components to a Variance application, including a public hearing.  Any proposal for work in the "Primary Protection Zone" or in a Bordering Vegetated Wetland - other than a single family house - must also file an Environmental Notification Form with MEPA. Variance decisions are recorded at the registry of deeds.

    WsPA Form 3: Application for a Variance (word version)

    WsPA Form 3: Application for a Variance (pdf version)

    Exemption of a Tributary

    A landowner, state agency, or town can apply for this exemption if they believe a tributary, or portion of one, can be exempted from the WsPA regulations with no significant risk to water quality.

    WsPA Form 5: Request for Exemption of a Tributary (word version)

    WsPA Form 5: Request for Exemption of a Tributary (pdf version)

    WsPA Data Viewer

    Watershed Protection Act Data Viewer

    This on-line map allows you to look-up an address in the watershed system and view WsPA regulated areas.

    Please be aware that if there is a discrepancy between the location of a tributary on the map and its location in the field, the field location will be used.  Also, not all Bordering Vegetated Wetlands are shown; the extent of BVWs is determined by each community's Conservation Commission.

    Landowner's are responsible for meeting the WsPA regulations.  Anyone proposing a project in the watershed system is encouraged to contact DCR to ensure the correct interpretation of the law.

    Click here or on the picture for the WsPA Data Viewer.

    Brochures and Other Guidance

    Contact Information

    Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River Watershed Communities

    DCR Division of Water Supply Protection
    Quabbin/Ware Region
    485 Ware Rd.
    Belchertown, MA 01007
    (413) 213-7935
    allan.rantala@mass.gov

    Wachusett Reservoir Watershed Communities

    DCR Division of Water Supply Protection
    Wachusett/Sudbury Region
    180 Beaman St.
    West Boylston, MA 01583
    (857) 303-5427
    Bernadette.DeBlander2@mass.gov

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