Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Water Infrastructure Finance Commission Meeting
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
In a meeting duly posted, the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission met at ten a.m. at the State House in Boston in the Senate Reading Room on October 26, 2010.
Members Present: Representative Carolyn Dykema, Paul Niedzswiecki, David Hanlon, William Callahan, Phil Jasset, Tom Tilas, Ned Bartlett, Tom Walsh, David Terry, Michael Martin, Peter Shelley.
In Senator Eldridge’s absence, Representative Dykema chaired the meeting.
The minutes from the previous meeting were approved. Mr. Richard Clyman was the guest of the Commission and he made some remarks on his experience with the watershed based approach to water management and infrastructure.
Mr. Clyman: Thank you for having me.
The program of evaluating our water infrastructure and policy needs by watershed started in the 90’s and was based on a five year cycle. The program required annual updates, and I worked closely with a broad range of groups with the goal of improving water quality by reorienting grants, regulatory practices and other funds towards shared priorities. My work was primarily around Boston Harbor. Project lists allowed for mutual support and education. Many projects were done as a result of EPA mandates. We struggled with the problem of insufficient resources throughout the life of the program.
The program had a number of strengths. Working directly with the EPA helped. The groups in the program eventually expanded our view of what kind of projects we should look at to include land protection and the working groups helped all involved focus resources on the greatest needs.
The working groups also facilitated improved communication between different organizations and between government agencies and environmental stakeholders. The working groups also gave environmental managers at all levels a common sense of purpose and some excellent intelligence on the status of different natural resources.
The program also had some downsides. Many of the big issues working groups faced were large capital problems with no easy answers. Not everyone involved agreed on the process. Judgment calls were still necessary when distinguishing between priorities. In some ways squeaky wheels got overrepresented. Some senior managers encountered turf issues when it came to dealing with particular projects or programs. The working groups were short on staff and under-resourced. Team leaders had to understand the bureaucratic process and be willing to work with government agencies and some find that difficult.
The five year cycle became tiresome in the minds of some group members. Some lost faith in the process because there was simply not enough money to solve problems and many of the big problems had already been identified.
Representative Dykema: Thank you for your presentation. I think there is a lot of value in hearing more about that approach.
The Commission noted that there are many issues involved in deciding how to define a watershed, and how to set boundaries. Do you use strictly hydrological criteria? Do you use political boundaries, which are useful for making decisions but may not exactly cover a watershed?
Mr. Clyman: For the most part I think DEP made those decisions. Scale was an issue and whenever you distinguish between one watershed and another there is some level of arbitrariness and there was some political impetus for making some of those decisions.
Representative Dykema: Clearly how we set boundaries for what constitutes a watershed will be a challenge.
Mr. Tilas noted that other states considered this approach in Massachusetts as a model.
The Commission discussed some of the pros and cons of this approach. It was noted that even when there had been the political will to take some action, often resources were limited. Often, even when consensus was reached about how to proceed, finding money to move forward was very difficult.
Mr. Clyman was asked about the data obtained and measured during the process. How was it used, and was it useful? He observed that the teams kept a lot of data, but there were limits on how data could be used for formal assessment. It is possible that DEP still has a lot of that information.
Representative Dykema: On balance, was the watershed approach preferable?
Mr. Clyman: Independent agencies acting on their own are not terrible, but some kind of watershed program had some real value.