MMA letter to conference committee on water infrastructure legislation

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The Hon. Anne Gobi, Senate Chair
The Hon. William Smitty Pignatelli, House Chair
Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture State House
State House, Boston
 
Dear Senator Gobi, Representative Pignatelli, and Distinguished Committee Members,
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer input on several of the bills before the Committee today, many of which would provide municipalities with additional tools to manage their water infrastructure. The MMA supports H. 2117, An Act Relative to Municipal Assistance for Clean Water and Economic Development Infrastructure, H. 2116, An Act Providing for the Establishment of Sustainable Water Resource Funds, H. 463/S. 462, An Act to Assist Municipal and District Ratepayers, and H. 2118, An Act to Promote Regionalization with Watershed Based Permitting. The MMA has concerns about several bills before the committee today, as outlined below, and would welcome further discussion on these measures.
 
We appreciate the Legislature’s commitment to funding municipal water infrastructure needs through the Clean Water Trust and other programs, and your collaboration with local officials on innovative and cost-effective mechanisms to finance the construction of environmental projects. However, the unfortunate reality is that cities and towns continue to face major water and environmental infrastructure funding problems, as documented by the state Water Infrastructure Finance Commission and by a recent report by State Auditor Suzanne Bump. Both reports determine that our state’s municipalities are facing a needs gap of billions of dollars in order to adequately maintain drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. Some of the legislation before the committee today would provide municipalities with additional tools to help address this funding gap.
 
The MMA supports H. 2117, An Act Relative to Municipal Assistance for Clean Water and Economic Development Infrastructure, which would authorize additional funding through the creation of a $1 billion Water Infrastructure Bond for a capital outlay program for maintenance and improvements to municipal drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. This grant funding would be distributed to municipalities based on a formula similar to the very successful Chapter 90 transportation-funding program.
 
H. 2116, An Act Providing for the Establishment of Sustainable Water Resource Funds, would clarify the authority of cities and towns to use an effective strategy to protect public health and the environment, while promoting economic growth. The bill would give communities an important tool to raise revenues locally, by creating an enabling statute to allow cities and towns to establish dedicated funds, commonly referred to as water banks or mitigation funds. Current statutes cover full-cost pricing for water and the establishment of stormwater fees, but they apply to existing customers, and do not address increased demands resulting from expanded or new use. H. 2116 provides the mechanism to close this policy gap.
 
Water banks have been established by individual utilities to help offset the costs associated with state- and federally-required environmental mitigation for new and expanded service (generally coming from new development). Such initiatives include, but are not limited to, restoring and protecting stream flow, reducing water and wastewater system demand through water conservation programs, and the elimination of excessive wastewater inflow and infiltration. A number of communities, including Weymouth and Danvers, have implemented water banks and have reported excellent results. Without this important local tool to finance additional mitigation, developers would have been forced to wait until other resources became available, delaying economic investment in the region. Even as the use of water banking charges becomes increasingly accepted, the enabling legislation in H. 2116 is necessary to free cities and towns from the expensive and burdensome litigation and delaying tactics that come from adversarial parties who wish to deny communities this important tool or block economic activity.
 
H. 463 and S. 462, An Act to Assist Municipal and District Ratepayers, would require the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to complete a regulatory impact statement on any rule, regulation, guidance document or policy they propose that applies to the operation of public drinking water systems, wastewater collection and treatment facilities and stormwater management. Compliance with overly burdensome rules drives up the cost to ratepayers, with annual expenditures for some communities reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars. This legislation would merely require the agencies to go through a common- sense analysis to determine the overall impact of new rules, to ensure that adequate consideration is given to the overall cost, benefit and outcome of regulatory and guidance changes.
 
H. 2118, An Act to Promote Regionalization with Watershed Based Permitting, would direct MassDEP to evaluate the feasibility of implementing a watershed-based permitting approach in the Commonwealth. Municipalities are facing challenges complying with the numerous regulations for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. A watershed-based permitting approach would allow for more integrated water management planning, which would help communities prioritize water resources needs, investments and benefits so that limited financial resources can be used most effectively.
 
While we support the measures highlighted above as being very helpful in promoting effective municipal investment in our environmental infrastructure systems, we have significant concerns regarding several bills that are being heard today.
 
First, the MMA would like to express our opposition to S. 420, An Act Relative to Streamflow Standards. MassDEP is already working with cities and towns to address issues of streamflow and stream health through regulations. We believe that placing the text of S. 420 in statute is unnecessary, and would reduce important flexibility that allows the Department to manage water use in a holistic manner. S. 420 would create statutory rigidity that would inhibit integration with other program responsibilities.
 
Next, the MMA opposes H. 2115/S. 425, An Act Relative to Drought Management, which would allow the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to order water conservation measures based on the severity of drought in drought regions. Municipal officials and water suppliers know their communities best and are well equipped to make decisions on drought restrictions. During the drought last year, nearly 200 communities implemented local water restrictions. While MMA is interested in discussing additional tools and best practices for communities in order to prepare for future droughts, we are concerned that this legislation would reduce local control and could have unintended negative impacts on cities and towns, which we frequently see as an outcome with top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates and directives.
 
The MMA also has concerns about H. 2915/S. 456, An Act Ensuring Safe Drinking Water at Schools and Early Childhood Programs. The bill would require public water systems to fully replace lead service lines at every school district, charter school, nonpublic school, and early childhood program within three years and would require annual testing for the presence of lead. While this bill has good intent and MMA agrees that removing lead fixtures in schools is an important priority, we feel that the state needs to play a much larger role in financing the identification and replacement of lead pipes and fixtures. As written, this bill would place an unfunded mandate on municipalities. We look forward to further discussions on how the Commonwealth can work with cities and towns to provide additional tools and funding to replace lead pipes and fixtures.
 
We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on these proposals. The MMA has supported a number of legislative initiatives to provide cities and towns with valuable resources and funds to upgrade their water infrastructure systems and begin closing the gap in water infrastructure financing needs. Cities and towns across the state have made enormous investments in their water, wastewater and drainage infrastructure, and local officials have done so because these systems are essential to our environment, our economy and our daily lives. If you have any questions, or desire further information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or Victoria Sclafani of the MMA staff at (617) 426-7272 at any time.
 
Thank you very much.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO