Lead Sponsors: Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Frank Smizik
Summary: This bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt regulations establishing standards developed by the Department of Fish and Game for restoring and maintaining stream flow in the rivers and streams of the Commonwealth. In addition, the bill updates the state’s dam safety statute and allows for municipal water banking.
Why This Matters: Rivers and streams need to maintain a certain level of water flowing through them year-round to provide adequate supplies of clean water for public water supplies and to preserve the natural aquatic life in those streambeds. Massachusetts currently has over 160 “flow-impaired” rivers and streams, more than any other state in New England.
We know that when streams get too low, it has a serious impact on water quality and the aquatic habitat. However, there are currently no minimum streamflow standards in place to safeguard the water levels in rivers and streams necessary for sustaining public health and safety and functional ecosystems, fish, and other water-dependent wildlife.
What this Bill Would Do: This bill approaches the problem of streamflow management and sustainability in a comprehensive way. It would:
- Ensure adequate water in rivers and streams: The bill would require the adoption of streamflow standards in the Water Management Act to ensure adequate water flow and water levels for community water suppliers and fish and other species as developed by the Department of Fish and Game.
- Encourage water conservation: It would also authorize water suppliers to implement “waterbanking,” under which they could charge a small fee to residents and businesses for any new water withdrawal capacity to offset and remedy ecological impacts of water withdrawals, such as: land acquisition for wellhead protection, local recharge of storm/waste water, reuse of water, retrofitting existing development with low impact development methods or water saving devices.
- Further river restoration: This bill would also give the Office of Dam Safety within the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) the option of removing a dam if they determine that doing so would have a more positive effect on local watersheds and stream flow levels. The State Auditor released a report in January 2011 that highlighted 100 dams categorized as a high hazard to public safety.