Sustainable Water Management Initiative

Large water withdrawals (over 100,000 gallons per day) in Massachusetts are regulated by MassDEP under the Water Management Act and regulations. This applies to withdrawals from wells or from surface waters, whether by municipalities, businesses, or other entities.

In 2015, OARS collaborated with the Town of Westborough and Abt Associates to identify cost-effective options for the Westborough Public Works Department to meet both human and environmental water needs based on the revised requirements of the WMA Regulations (see background, below, describing the revisions). The results were presented at a public Selectmen's meeting, and in a Final Report. As part of the project, we provided training to other public water suppliers in the watershed. Participants learned about publicly-available decision-support tools to assist them in developing their water withdrawal permit applications due in 2015. The training session was held June 3, 2015, in Westborough. The presentation and Resource List can be downloaded. This project was financed partially with State Capital funds from the MassDEP under a Sustainable Water Management Initiative Grant. The contents do not necessarily reflect the view and policies of MassDEP, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

Background. Concerns that the water withdrawal permitting was not adequately protecting the flow in streams and rivers led the state to establish a Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) in 2010. The goal was to ensure that the Commonwealth’s water resources would be managed sustainably, balancing human and ecological needs.

The Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) along with a wide range of stakeholders, worked together on the initiative, and were guided this overall principle:

“The Commonwealth’s water resources are public resources that require sustainable management practices for the well-being and safety of our citizens, protection of the natural environment, and for economic growth.”

The resulting SWMI Final Framework was published in November 2012. The SWMI Framework, page contains many background documents and comment letters, including OARS’.

In spring of 2014 OARS collaborated with the Town of Hudson, Weston & Sampson, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to study the implementation of SWMI in Hudson, Marlborough, Stow, Maynard, Sudbury and Wayland to support the municipalities' water withdrawal permit applications under the Water Management Act coming up in 2015. The results were presented at a public meeting in Hudson, and in a Final Report. The study was supported by a grant from the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection.

By November 2014 the Regulations of the Water Management Act had been revised and adopted to reflect SWMI. OARS, working with many partners through the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, contributed to the drafting of the SWMI Framework, the revised Regulations, and the revised Guidance document. MassDEP maintains a website with many Technical Resources to assist communities and applicants navigate the water withdrawal permitting process, including an interactive map that shows watershed boundaries, permitted withdrawals, coldwater streams, etc. Water withdrawal permits are issued for 20 years, with 5-year reviews.

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