State and Federal Policy

Federal Policy
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the main federal framework for restoring and protecting freshwater resources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website is a good source of information. Read the OARS Newsletter article on the Act.

The CWA was seriously curtailed by two confusing Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that sought to eliminate protection of many wetlands and tributaries. President Obama has proposed Guidance that clarifies and protects these resources.

The EPA’s implementation of the CWA has been threatened in two ways: cutting the budget, and placing riders to block implementation. Regarding a Department of Interior appropriations bill, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-5th District) argued on the House floor: “…[T]his [appropriations] bill would dismantle the Clean Water Act, which would not only undermine our constituents’ access to clean and healthy waterways but also would mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.” (July 25, 2011)

The same appropriations bill also contained 38 “riders” that specifically blocked implementation of river restoration, climate change adaptation, and other key provisions. Full list of riders.

State Policy
Massachusetts and New Hampshire are two of only five states where the EPA retains permitting authority under the Clean Water Act rather than delegating it to the state. Massachusetts enforces its own Clean Water Act, which mirrors the federal law. The Mass. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sets and certifies water quality standards, conducts monitoring and assessments, and jointly issues and enforces discharge permits with the EPA. It also regulates drinking water withdrawals.

OARS evaluates and comments, where appropriate, on large projects in the watershed. Projects under state review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) are listed bi-weekly in the Environmental Monitor. Selected comment letters by OARS can be found under Comment Letters and Appeals.

Stormwater Management Regulations
As a member of the Stormwater Stakeholder Workgroup, OARS worked with municipalities, developers, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other partners to ensure that stormwater is being properly managed through MassDEP's new stormwater general permit program. The draft regulation, issued in 2008, requires all private property owners of impervious surfaces of five acres or greater to control phosphorus and other pollutants before the stormwater runs off their property. For existing development it will require good housekeeping practices, such as regular parking lot sweeping. New developments and redevelopments will be required to meet the new stormwater standards for pollutant control.
This approach builds on the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act that has long required controls for stormwater runoff. The new program will provide a range of tools--"best management practices"--property owners can use to achieve compliance, such as rain gardens and infiltration basins that capture runoff, and green technologies such as rain barrels that recycle the rainwater.