Auditor’s report cites $17.8B in water infrastructure needs

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Communities across the state face at least $17.8 billion in unmet spending needs over the next 20 years for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, according to a report released Jan. 17 by the Division of Local Mandates in the State Auditor’s Office.
“The findings suggest that state government can create a more stable, holistic approach to water infrastructure, giving municipalities greater levels of confidence and encouragement to invest in water infrastructure improvements,” the report states. “Some of these involve additional investment at the state level so that municipalities do not bear the entire burden. Other reforms are regulatory, since a predictable, consistent, and collaborative regulatory framework will encourage municipalities to commit more resources to much-needed water system improvements.”
The following are among the key recommendations of the report:
• Providing $50 million per year in additional state water infrastructure grants for the next decade
• Holding a statewide summit for municipal leaders on infrastructure challenges presented by climate change
• Encouraging regional collaboration on water infrastructure planning and management
• Consideration of enterprise funds for stormwater at the local level
The report also recommends that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection assume primary responsibility over the National Pollutants Discharge Elimination System program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The auditor said MassDEP responsibility for the program would “better align expectations and oversight for municipalities, as DEP already issues permits for drinking- and wastewater systems.” The MMA has supported the Baker administration in its efforts to seek delegated authority over the NPDES program, which 46 other states administer currently.
Tom Champion, policy research analyst for the Division of Local Mandates, gave a presentation on the report at the MMA Annual Meeting in January. MMA members discussed the water infrastructure funding challenges that communities face with Champion and the other members of the panel, Charlton Town Administrator Robin Craver, Massachusetts Water Works Association Executive Director Jennifer Pederson, and MassDEP Municipal Services Director Steve McCurdy.
At the Feb. 14 meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell discussed wastewater and drinking water projects in their communities that are eligible for loans through the State Revolving Fund, and stressed the importance of water infrastructure in cities and towns.
The Division of Local Mandates produces municipal impact studies that review state laws that have significant financial impacts on municipalities.
The report was based on survey responses from cities and towns on their local costs associated with water systems, supplies and quality. A total of 146 communities (42 percent of Massachusetts municipalities) responded to the survey.
Click here to download the full report (4M PDF)