MWDN: Property owners urged to help treat water

By Jaclyn Reiss/Daily News correspondent
Posted Feb 10, 2011

Businesses and homeowners can save money and help the environment by recycling the water they use instead of dumping it into sewers, say members of a special state panel.

“Not all the water used in a business has to be treated,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, chairman of the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, after the meeting. “The water can stay in that business to water lawns or (for) use in creating or processing the company’s product.”

The 15-member commission established last year by Gov. Deval Patrick has been working on ways to deliver high-quality water in Massachusetts and improve sewer and water systems while saving communities money. The task is made more challenging by cuts in federal funding.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the commission discussed different options to deal with drinking water and sewage.

Tom Walsh, director-engineer and treasurer for the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, who serves on the commission, stressed that water pollution control and conservation starts with property owners.

“One area that every individual homeowner and property owner can make a difference is in what they do to manage water on their property,” Walsh said.

He suggested using rainwater, personal irrigation systems and greener landscaping practices, using water that need not go through treatment plants.

“Do you really need to have a yard that looks like a putting green on a golf course?” Walsh said. “It would be better off to have native shrubbery and wild flowers.”

Money is a major problem.

Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, said federal funding for water infrastructure projects has decreased dramatically since the 1970s, when federal grants made up about 75 percent of funding.

A treatment plant upgrade in Westborough is costing $64 million. Upgrades to two plants in Marlborough will cost $100 million.

All three plants needs upgrades to reduce the level of phosphorous dumped into the Assabet River.

“It’s absolutely an important environmental need,” she said after the meeting.

Although Westborough received $7 million from federal stimulus grants to help fund the upgrade, Eldridge said the rest of the money will come from property taxes and the state’s revolving fund, which provides loans to towns and cities.

The commission is also looking to offset costs associated with treating polluted runoff from water that cannot be absorbed naturally by the ground.

“If you are a commercial developer…and you’re paving over certain space, all the water coming down on that pavement runs off into a grate, river or stream, and is not absorbed naturally,” Eldridge said. “One of the questions we asked is, should we figure out a way to charge a fee if you’re paving, that would help pay for the cleanup of that water?”

Eldridge said the commission also discussed technical details of towns borrowing money for upkeep of pipes. He said they also talked about decentralizing large sewage treatment plants and treating water directly on site.

Dykema said maintaining the state’s quality water will benefit more than the environment. Clean water could attract companies specializing in scientific research and products, creating jobs and boosting the Massachusetts economy.

“Those companies are water-dependent, and they require gold-standard, world-class, high-quality water,” she said. “We need to invest in these water systems and manage them, from an economic standpoint.”

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