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Patrick-Murray Administration Reveals New Water Conservation Guidelines

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration has released a new framework to help protect water resources in the Commonwealth. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard has more…

This week Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and its agencies released a new set of guidelines that promise to manage water consumption to maintain and conserve healthy rivers and streams.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Ken Kimmel says that since 2010, the state has been working with stakeholders to develop guidelines on how to protect water resources in the Commonwealth.

In an average year, Massachusetts receives 44 inches of precipitation a year, but that is not evenly distributed. The state said that the summer and fall, the demand for water can dry up streams killing plants and animal life. The state also said that the current water allocation system needs in improvement in its permitting process – which has led “ costly litigation, long delays, and lack of certainty in permit decisions.”

So a new framework, called the Sustainable Water management Initiative was created. The guidelines establish a “Safe Yield” requirement that limits the amount of water that can be withdrawn from a water basin, and uses scientifically based “stream-flow” criteria.

Becky Smith, of the Massachusetts chapter of Clean Water Action, said that she’s glad to see the state take an adaptive approach in the permitting process . Under the original 1986 Massachusetts Water Management Act, those using more than 100,000 gallons of water would have to apply to the state for a permit.

But Jennifer Pederson, of the Massachusetts Water Works Association, a group that represents the water utilities in the Commonwealth, said that the new guidelines could lead to restrictive regulations.

Pederson said that the real the state should be addressing was revealed in a report released by state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Commission earlier this year that said Massachusetts faces a $10.2 billion funding for drinking water system improvements.

MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell said that the new guidelines will help form a new set of regulations that the state hopes to put into effect in January of 2014, and to involve communities in conserving their natural resources.  

For more information on the SWMI framework and water withdrawals under the WMA, go to: www.mass.gov/eea/swm

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.