10/25/2011

March 22, 2011 Minutes

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Water Infrastructure Finance Commission MeetingApproved Minutes March 22, 2011

In a meeting duly posted, the Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Finance Commission convened on March 22, 2011 in the Senate Reading Room at the State House

Members Attending:

Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Carolyn Dykema, Bruce Tobey, Thomas Walsh, William Callahan, David Terry (DEP Commissioner’s designee), Martin Pillsbury, Ned Bartlett; Michael Martin; Becky Smith; Thomas Tilas

Guests:

David Cash, Undersecretary for Policy at EOEEA; David Cole (Westport Estuaries Commission);  Drew Smith WPAT); Steve Eide (Worcester Regional Research Bureau); Stephen Esti-Smergiassi (MRWA); Mike Morris (MWRA); John Clarkeson (EEA); Jen Pederson (MWWA); Kathy Baskin (EOEEA); Seth Rolbein (Senator Daniel Wolf’s office); Valerie Nelson (Water alliance);  Ann Rhinelander; Leah Robins, Sally Schnitzer; Sean Navin (EOEEA)

Senator Eldridge called the meeting to order.

Minutes

The Commission voted to approve the minutes of March 1, 2011

Letter to Congress

The Senator noted that a letter had been sent to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to ask for full funding for the SRF accounts.

Schedule

The Commission report is due in June.  There was a conversation about the work of the Working Groups, and whether we will be able to meet the deadline.  There was a feeling that extending the deadline to the early fall would be valuable.  One idea is to release a draft or interim report in the June timeframe, followed by a final report in the fall.  There was a concern that delaying the report might lead to inaction on recommendations in the current legislative session.  Senator Eldridge noted that a placeholder bill had been filed.  Senator Eldridge will take this input under consideration and see what is involved if we were to seek an extension. Meanwhile, we will proceed on the current schedule.

Report Outline

The Commission spent a good deal of time working through a Table that had been prepared by Senator Eldridge’s staff.  This Table is based on the Working Group Drafts that have been put together so far – pulling together the major “narrative” of the report and identifying the themes for expected recommendations.    Today’s objective is to work through this overview to identify any gaps in the report, and conflicts, or suggestions.   Notes and edits were made on a number of sections.  These will be incorporated.

Mr. Bartlett noted that a number of working groups will be making recommendations on a number of same or similar topics.  Is it a good idea to assign one group to pull those “like” recommendations together to avoid duplicating work?   Staff will take a look at that question.

It was agreed that at the next meeting, the Commission would continue to work through the narrative, and also start to focus reaching consensus on the Recommendations.

  • The first area of recommendation we will take on will be the concept of a dedicated revenue stream for municipal and district water infrastructure investment.  Mr. Pillsbury will pull together a written recommendation on this for the Commission to consider at the next meeting.
  • Once we work through that, the second area of recommendation to consider at the next meeting might be the Watershed approach.  Mr. Bartlett would be willing to pull together a recommendation on this topic.
  • A third area might be Regional approaches.

Ms. Rhinelander raised some concerns about privatization.  She is concerned that regionalization might be a mask for privatization, which can lead to unfortunate outcomes for customers and residents.  She was urged to send her detailed thoughts in writing to the Commission.

Sustainable Water Management Initiative

Senator Eldridge introduced Dr. David Cash, Assistant Secretary for Policy at EOEEA. In 2010 the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs created the Sustainable Water Management Advisory Committee comprised of a wide range of stakeholders and supported by staff from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as well as the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.  This group advises EEA and the agencies on the development of a water allocation program that examines solutions to satisfying water needs while recognizing ecological issues such as low stream flow.

Dr. Cash has been chairing the group.  He reported that the group came together after a controversy and law suit over “safe yield”, a component of the Water Management Act.   The group is focusing on how to define safe yield and how to incorporate that definition into permitting.  It is a big, complicated task, with many moving parts, agencies, and statutes.  The problems are complex.  The group is just now in the phase of putting tangible ideas on the table.

Dr. Cash has been attentive to the deliberations of the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission and believes that the two efforts are parallel and complementary.    Senator Eldridge and Representative Dykema are scheduled to attend a meeting of the Sustainable Water Management (SWMI) group later today.

Using a regression analysis model developed by USGS , in collaboration with DFG and DEP,  the Sustainable Water Management Initiative is coming up with a framework that will seek to maintain water needs to support human and economic needs while maintaining stream flow.  It will not be a one-size fits all regulation.  Some parts of the state may have higher values or lower conflicts.  Tradeoffs will be addressed through the framework.  Given the diversity across the state, we should have unique solutions on a watershed by watershed basis.

One specific concept that is being tested is to consider the role of the MWRA  — could expansion of that system to new communities resolve some of the issues?  Regulatory changes may also be suggested.   We recognize that part of the issue is recognizing the financial burden on municipalities.  We need to keep cities and towns whole.

Ms. Pederson noted that the SWMI group has talked about a potential “Blue Communities Act” which is a concept with overlap to some of the emerging ideas from  the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission regarding a dedicated funding source for water.

Mr. Tilas asked a question about the financial barrier for municipal admission to the MWRA.

Mr. Martin asked about incorporating existing utilities together with the MWRA for some efficiencies of scale.

Mr. Tobey noted that he represents the MMA on this Commission.  Communities are a big stakeholder, and we need to consider cost-effectiveness in SWMI recommendations.  With respect to MWRA, one of the roadblocks is the regulations for joining.  You must make an upfront membership payment) and pay  costs to make the actual connection.  Mr. Tobey hopes that EOEEA will intersect with the Commission on cost-effectiveness as you go forward on any recommendations regarding the  MWRA and towns.

Mr. Cash stated that the MWRA has done an outstanding job and we should be able to do something creative.

Mr. Tobey also urged EOEEA to look at the long term drought cycles and demand cycles.  Will the reservoirs be able to meet their demand if new communities sign on?  Mr. Cash noted that there has been consistent improvement in conservation and an increase in water supply capacity as a result.

Mr. Martin asked for a clarification.  Is  the idea to get some towns on MWRA in stressed basins, in order to alleviate the flow issues?  Answer:  Yes.

Up to date information on the Sustainable Water Management Initiative proceedings, including report links and presentations, can be found at www.mass.gov/eea/swm .

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