MassDEP decides not to amend Water Management Act regulations

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In response to a petition filed by the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection made a determination not to amend Water Management Act regulations or impose conservation conditions on registrants at this time.
 
In a letter to the petitioners, MassDEP wrote that while the department is not pursuing rulemaking at this time, it plans to do further work and analysis related to water withdrawals.
 
MassDEP held a public meeting on Sept. 12 to solicit comments on the petition, which would have imposed conservation conditions on Water Management Act registrants.
 
The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance petition called for the MassDEP to revise regulations to allow the department to impose conservation conditions on all registrants upon renewal of their registrations “to satisfy the purposes of the Massachusetts Water Management Act, the Water Conservation Standards (June 2012, as amended), and the public trust doctrine.”
 
The petition laid out the conditions being requested, which include preparation of a written water conservation plan that achieves specific standards for water usage per person per day, standards for unaccounted for water, and outdoor water use restrictions.
 
Although MassDEP will not impose conservation conditions on registrants at this time, the department said it will evaluate the issue and determine if additional regulatory action is needed as it continues the registration renewal process, which will take place in 2021. MassDEP will take into account several factors related to water savings through certain demand management strategies, water savings actions during drought, and the possible development of a statewide educational campaign on water conservation. MassDEP will work with stakeholders in the coming months on this issue.
 
At the public meeting, the MassDEP provided an overview of the Water Management Act program, and the petitioners gave a presentation.
 
The Water Management Act, passed in 1985, provided for a recognition of existing withdrawals through the filing of a registration statement. Water rights for WMA registrations are based on water usage from 1981 through 1985, and registrations have a 10-year term.
 
Two-hundred and sixty-two public water systems hold registrations under the WMA, and 59 public water systems are registered-only systems, meaning they do not also hold a permit.
 
At the meeting, the MMA spoke in opposition to the petition, arguing that communities are already committed to water conservation and high environmental standards without burdensome regulations or directives that preempt local control.
 
A number of other groups, including the Massachusetts Water Works Association and the Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship, and several municipal public works and water department officials, also provided comments in opposition to the petition.
 
In a letter to MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, the MMA expressed strong concerns about the petition and its impact on WMA registration holders. Regarding the communities that only hold registrations under the WMA, the MMA wrote, “Given that communities that hold registrations have maintained the same (or in some cases have decreased) their water usage, the MMA feels it would be unfair to punish these communities by imposing additional conservation restrictions. Any such decision would also contradict the original intent of the Legislature to grandfather these registered volumes for registration holders.”
 
For more information about the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance petition, visit www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/watersheds/petition-amend-wma-regulations.html.