The Water Management Act or “WMA” is the primary law which regulates large water withdrawals—by entities such as public drinking water sources, golf courses and major industrial users—in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth is in the midst of the most significant overhaul of permitting under the WMA since its adoption in 1986.
Known as the Sustainable Water Management Initiative or “SWMI,” this overhaul will bring a science-based approach to bear in evaluating the impacts of proposed water withdrawals on the health of rivers and streams across the state, and will require water withdrawal permittees to avoid and/or mitigate those environmental impacts wherever feasible. Final regulations and guidance are expected from MassDEP in early 2014.
Nine of the 14 communities in the Neponset River Watershed draw drinking water from wells associated with the Neponset, and all of these communities will be subject to the new SWMI requirements when their WMA permits renew in 2015. These communities include: Dedham, Dover, Canton, Foxborough, Medfield, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole and Westwood.
At the urging of the Watershed Association, seven of these communities joined together to conduct the Neponset Water Management Act Planning Project (Medfield and Dover were not formal project participants). The project was funded by a grant from MassDEP to the Dedham Westwood Water District, which served as fiscal agent on behalf of the regional effort.
The project involved assembling much of the information and analysis which the participating communities will need to submit their WMA permit renewal applications in 2015. The project evaluated how each community is likely to be affected by the new rules, and explored a variety of options for them to consider that would address the new regulatory requirements and reduce the environmental impacts of water supply activities on the Neponset, Charles, Taunton and/or Ten Mile Rivers.
Specific project tasks included:
- Developing multiple scenarios regarding the volume of water that will be needed in the future, and creating an interactive water needs forecasting model for the study area.
- Evaluating existing water conservation practices in each community and additional steps that could be taken to increase water-use efficiency.
- Quantifying existing wastewater returns and the potential to further reduce water losses associated with groundwater leaking into the regional sewer system.
- Assessing the potential to reduce environmental impacts by shifting pumping among existing wells, adding new wells in less sensitive areas, or importing water through regional interconnections.
- Exploring opportunities to increase groundwater recharge by retrofitting existing roadways and parking lots with devices to capture and clean polluted stormwater runoff which is currently discharged directly to waterways.
- Summarizing the regulatory thresholds and requirements likely to apply to each community and some of the options available for addressing those requirements.
Work on the project was completed by a unique consulting team which included the Neponset River Watershed Association, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and the engineering firm Weston and Sampson.
In general, the project found that the growth in water demand in the study area is likely to be gradual over the next 20 years, and communities can address the new regulatory requirements and substantially reduce impacts to waterways by being proactive in implementing a variety of incremental changes in the areas of water conservation, wastewater management, stormwater management, and optimization of withdrawals.
The project final report can be downloaded below. Additional documentation, data and work products associated with this project are available to designated representatives of the participating communities on a set of two project DVDs.
For or more information about this project, contact Ian Cooke, Executive Director.
Over the coming months, the Watershed Association intends to conduct additional outreach in each of the participating communities to raise awareness of the SWMI process, discuss the report’s recommendations, and identify opportunities for the Association to help communities more effectively implement measures to increase the sustainability of water supply activities in the watershed.
Ian Cooke, Executive Director, July 11, 2013