Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Resource Protection –Water Management Program
One Winter Street, 5thfloor
Boston, MA 02108

Re: Water Resources Management Program Regulations (310 CMR 36.00)

To whom it may concern,

I am writing on behalf of the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), which is the principal environmental advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its watershed. The Connecticut River is the longest in New England, and its tributaries are used to supply water to the Boston metropolitan area (through Quabbin Reservoir), the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission (Cobble Mountain Reservoir), as well as numerous smaller and medium-sized water supplies that use groundwater and reservoirs. We have some of the most pristine water bodies in the state, but we also have a large degree of urbanized and agricultural land. Therefore, managing water in a sustainable way is of paramount importance to our organization, and we also look at the issue from many different perspectives.

We support the amendment to the Water Management Act to reduce nonessential outdoor water use during droughts.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2022, the entire Connecticut River watershed in Massachusetts was affected by drought,[1] limiting recreation and economic opportunities, as well impacting local farmers and industry. In addition to the economic impacts of drought, low flow conditions degrade the ecological health of the watershed, as seen this past year when migratory fish became trapped due to low river levels.[2] While some municipalities within the watershed implemented outdoor water bans or voluntary restrictions, the response to this year’s severe drought was piecemealed and inconsistent across both the watershed and the commonwealth. As we well know, climate models predict the worsening of droughts in Massachusetts,[3] making clear the need for state-wide, comprehensive regulation to reduce nonessential water use in droughts.

We do NOT support the exemption for golfing greens and all public parks and fields regardless of drought conditions; instead, these facilities should be accounted for in a tiered watering system.

310 CMR 36.07(2)(c)2.a. through d. provides a detailed plan for tiered watering practices dependent upon the drought conditions. CRC suggests two amendments to this section: 1) golfing greens should be included in the tiered structure with fairways and should be watered according to drought conditions, and 2) MassDEP should set up a similar tiered structure for watering public parks and fields. While we recognize that maintaining these facilities is necessary for recreation and economic opportunity, during significant and critical droughts, water use priorities must be focused on health and safety while sustaining Massachusetts’ aquatic ecosystems.

We do NOT support the multi-year drought storage definition, which provides the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) with exemptions from this amendment.

The Quabbin Reservoir diverts water from the Swift River, a tributary of the Ware River and ultimately diverts water that would naturally flow into the Chicopee and then Connecticut Rivers. When the Quabbin Reservoir is at capacity, excess water flows into the Swift River, providing the most basic and vital element of an aquatic ecosystem: water. The MWRA operations directly impact the sustained health of this river and should be held to the same standards as other water users in the state and be subject to restrictions on nonessential outdoor water use during drought. Additionally, there is precedent for the MRWA successfully using mitigation and reduction strategies to meet water demands. In the late 1970’s, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) proposed to divert the Connecticut River to the Quabbin Reservoir because of projected water needs. When faced with opposition to this plan, the MDC made up for the water need by fixing leaks and improving conservation. Today, the MWRA reports its demand is down to 1950’s levels, demonstrating that conservation, rather than additional withdrawal, saved millions of dollars in water treatment costs and infrastructure building and maintenance. The multi-year drought storage definition would allow users, such as the MWRA, to forgo the requirements of this regulation in lieu of developing a drought management plan. The MWRA, which has proven the efficacy of conservation practices, does not need an exemption to this regulation, which would only serve to create inconsistencies for water users throughout the commonwealth. Should MassDEP move ahead with this exemption, which we urge against, CRC requests that there be a public comment process to review and provide input on any proposed drought management plans.

Twelve years ago, the MassDEP was granted the right to require water conservation for registered water users. Considering the severity and impact of the last four droughts, which all took place within the last six years, it is well beyond time for MassDEP to not only enact these regulations to curb nonessential water use, but also to consider the worsening of drought predicted for the next twelve years. While antiquated water supply finance structures present some stumbling blocks for water suppliers, the sale of large quantities of water can no longer serve as a primary source of income during drought conditions. A variety of technical and financial assistance options are available to municipalities to deal with this issue, and it is now appropriate to implement a more comprehensive and consistent response to drought across Massachusetts through this regulatory change.

Thank you for considering these comments,

Kelsey Wentling (she/her)
River Steward
Connecticut River Conservancy