Municipal Compliance Fact Sheet: Drinking Water

Information for municipal officials from the MassDEP Drinking Water Program

What You Should Know About this Issue

As a senior municipal official representing the interests of your community, you should be aware that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the Massachusetts Drinking Water Regulations apply to all public water systems. The primary purpose of these regulations is to ensure that the public is provided with water that is safe to drink. The quality of the water must be maintained from the source to the consumer.

Examples of Municipal Facilities & Activities Involved

The delivery of high quality drinking water starts with a protected source - the public well, reservoir, or river intake. MassDEP provides each public water system with a Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) report that includes recommendations as to how a community can reduce the risk of contamination. As a senior official of your community, you should request a copy of this report and if appropriate, request a briefing by the manager of your public water system. (Visit to view the most recent SWAP report for your system.) Although the Water Department is responsible for source protection, other municipal departments can provide significant support. Planning Boards issue permits for land use development. Fire Departments respond to spills of hazardous materials. Boards of Health regulate septic systems and Boards of Selectmen recommend budget expenditures at town meetings.

The Water Department tests drinking water on a regular basis for over 100 possible contaminants at various locations in the system, including customers' homes. Communities must send these test results to MassDEP and they become public records. The processes used to treat drinking water vary and depend on the compounds that need to be removed. The more compounds that need to be removed (whether naturally occurring or man-made), the more complex the treatment system required. The Water Department must use licensed operators to run the treatment plant. The number of operators and the skills they must have depends on the size of the system and the types of treatment.

The Water Department delivers drinking water to your community using a network of pump stations, storage tanks and underground pipes. Regular maintenance and replacement of these assets by licensed operators ensures that the system remains reliable and maintains high-quality water all the way to the end customer.

MassDEP regularly inspects municipal water systems and provides a comprehensive written report to the Water Department. Municipal officials should discuss these reports with the water system operators and familiarize themselves with any actions recommended or required to improve system reliability.

Common Compliance Issues

  • Failing to monitor and report test results to MassDEP as required is a critical compliance issue
  • Your community must notify MassDEP within 24 hours if certain types of contaminants or violations of treatment technique requirements are detected, such as violations of treatment techniques to remove viruses, giardia and cryptosporidium.
  • Your community must notify the public of any violations related to monitoring or treatment technique standards. For information on contaminant monitoring, reporting, and notification requirements, visit Drinking Water.
  • MassDEP's regulations require that public water systems have sufficient and trained staff. With an aging certified operator work force coupled with more complex treatment requirements, it is essential for municipalities to prepare for attrition. For information on operator certification visit Certified Operators.
  • Emergency planning and preparedness is vital for all public water systems. Your community must have plans in place to address the most likely emergency situations. For more information on emergency preparedness and security visit Emergency Response for Public Water Systems.

Environmental Stewardship Tips

  • Prohibit the storage of materials used or collected by the DPW near drinking water supplies.
  • Use local land use controls to protect drinking water sources.
  • Encourage Low Impact Development techniques to protect drinking water by reducing site impacts, infiltrating more stormwater runoff into the subsurface, and providing more recharge to local groundwaters.
  • Develop comprehensive resource protection and water conservation plans, and foster good communication among municipal boards to promote long-term protection of drinking water quality and quantity

Technical Assistance, Outreach, Grants & Loans

  • The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program provides state-subsidized low-interest loans to municipalities for planning and constructing drinking water infrastructure. Each year, MassDEP selects projects through a competitive procurement process. For information on the State Revolving Fund, see Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.
  • For information on grants for the acquisition of land and conservation restrictions for water supply protection visit Drinking Water Supply Protection Grant Program.
  • The Drinking Water Program also holds periodic training across the state on updates to the water supply regulations and guidelines.

For more information contact your MassDEP Regional Office.

Find your Regional Office