Tuesday, October 6, 2009

House Bill 834 - Sustainable Water Resources Act

Is there room for one more chair at the Commonwealth’s water management table? The supporters of House Bill 834 or Sustainable Water Resources Act (SWRA) are asking that a chair be provided for the myriad of aquatic life trying to survive in our rivers and streams. Having their own chair would elevate their standing from cursory to that of an equal stakeholder.
The SWRA, if passed, will make changes to four chapters of Massachusetts General Laws:
All of the specific changes can be found at this link

As I understand it, the gist of what is being proposed is the following:

• Chapter 21G Section 3 will be modified so as to require the Water Resources Commission at the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Environmental Protection to work with the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife to adopt “regulations establishing standards for restoring and maintaining stream flows, water levels and hydraulic regimes that are protective of natural aquatic life for all rivers and streams in the commonwealth and ensure a balance among competing water withdrawals and uses, as well as preservation of the water itself.” “The department’s regulations shall allow the department in consultation with the division to establish such standards protective of natural aquatic life for a specific river or stream.”

• Chapter 131 Section 42 will have added the following: “The division shall establish criteria to restore and maintain stream flows, water levels, and hydraulic regimes that are protective of natural aquatic life for all rivers and streams in the commonwealth. Such criteria shall be based on the best scientific evidence and methodology available and shall be based on and provide for the natural variation of stream flows, and water levels adequate to ensure their chemical, biological and physical integrity. Within one year of the effective date of this act, the division shall adopt these criteria for all rivers and streams.”

• Chapter253 Section 44 will have added the “definition for “Remove,” or “Removal,” the controlled dismantlement or breaching of a dam to the extent that water is not impounded or diverted by the dam and fish passage is no longer impeded and which is dismantled in compliance with applicable laws and regulations of the commonwealth; provided, that a minimal degree of impoundment needed to retain wetlands and open water conditions may be allowed following controlled dismantlement or breaching of a dam, while removing any impediment to fish passage or alleviating threats to safety or property.”

• Chapter 40 Section 39M will establish a Sustainable Water Resources Fund:
“Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, a city, town, board of water or sewer commissioners, officers performing like duties, or water or sewer district may collect a reasonable fee to be used exclusively to offset and remedy impacts of water withdrawals, sewering, or impairment of recharge of groundwater on the natural environment through depletion of ground or surface waters, and to sustain the quantity, quality and ecological integrity of waters of the commonwealth. Such measures for water return or water loss prevention shall include without limitation, local recharge of stormwater and wastewater, reuse of water, removal of infiltration and inflow, water savings achieved by retrofitting existing development with low impact development methods or water-saving devices, dam removal and land acquisition only for 1) wellhead protection of a public water supply or 2) for siting a decentralized wastewater treatment facility.
The fee, which may be based on retaining within the basin or saving at least one gallon, but no more than ten gallons, for every gallon of increased water or sewer demand, or net impairment of recharge shall be assessed in a fair and equitable manner, and separate uniform fees may be established for residential and commercial uses.
All such fees shall be deposited in a separate account classified as a "Sustainable Water Resource Fund."
This Fund shall not be used for any purpose not provided in this section. The Fund may also receive monies from public and private sources as gifts, grants, and donations to further water conservation, water return or water loss prevention; from the federal government as reimbursements, grants-in-aid or other receipts on account of water infrastructure improvements; or fines, penalties or supplemental environmental projects. Any interest earned from whatever source shall be credited to and become part of said Fund."

All of this sounds reasonable to me and I strongly suspect that fish, reptiles, and waterfowl residing in the rivers and streams of Massachusetts would be unanimous in support of this act. However, not everyone is in agreement. One group that opposes the SWRA, is the Massachusetts Water Works Association (MWWA). This group consists of people that are charged with the difficult task of providing residents of Massachusetts with safe drinking water. To them, this must seem like just another obstacle being placed in their path. Their position on the SWRA can be read at this link
Download Fact Sheet #1

In contrast to their opposition, is the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. Their position supporting the SWRA can be read at this link

I have read the positions of both groups as well as Op Ed letters in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette written by their respective executive directors. Despite my sympathies, as one working in the water field, for those involved with the day to day chore of providing safe and sufficient drinking water, I'm going to support the Sustainable Water Resources Act. For me, the key component is balance. I can’t agree with the MWWA’s contention that "House Bill 834 upends MGL 21G by singling out aquatic habitat protection as the top priority rather than seeking a balance among all water users as the statute intends." To the contrary, I believe that it is time to recognize the need for having aquatic life on an equal footing with other competing interests to better achieve balance. If water supplies should become low, I'm more than willing to sip rather than gulp! How about you?
If you feel strongly, one way or the other, contact your elected representatives and inform them of your position. You can find your elected representatives at this link


Lis said...

Can you give us a link to show support? Is there one of those pro forma letters anywhere I can sign and email to my legislator?


Al said...

Thanks for the suggestion Lis. I added a link that locates elected reps to the posting. Didn't see any "support" letter templates in my web travels. However, just a short email stating support or opposition should suffice.

Lis said...

Thanks Al - I'll give it a whirl.