Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Water Infrastructure Finance Commission
Working Group One
Current Water Infrastructure Needs and Long Term Challenges
Approved minutes: November 30 at 12:30 pm
In a meeting duly posted, Working Group One (Current Water Infrastructure Needs and Long Term Challenges) convened at approximately 12:30 pm in Room 350 at the State House.
Members Attending: Rep Dykema, David Terry, Phil Jasset, Ned Bartlett, Bill Callahan, Becky Smith. Senator Eldridge, Bob Zimmerman, Mike Martin, Dave Riedell
Also attending: Jennifer Pederson; Sally Schnitzer, Jessica Strunkin, Leah Robins, Heather Bell, Beth Mullin, Ann Rhinelander,
Guest speakers: Kate Bowditch (Charles River Watershed Association), Craig Lizotte (VHB)
Representative Dykema introduced Kate Bowditch, of the Charles River Watershed Association. Ms. Bowditch gave a power point presentation on the impacts of new stormwater regulations in the Charles River Basin. The problem, according to Ms. Bowditch, is that stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution to Massachusetts waters, and most stormwater runoff is unregulated at its source. Commercial and industrial properties contribute the most stormwater pollution per acre. In most parts of the state, phosphorous is the principle issue, and if a river does not meet federal standards, then under the Clean Water Act, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) calculation must be done. In the Charles River Watershed, phosphorous is the key issue, and according to the TMDL, the loads must be reduced by 53% overall. The greatest contribution to these pollutants is from impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and roofs. There are many natural sources of phosphorous, but those caused by humans include sewage, wastewater treatment effluent, erosion, and stormwater runoff. To achieve required reductions, each land use type must reduce loads.
Mr. Jasset inquired whether DOT is required to take actions on its roads in the watershed? Ms. Bowditch: DOT will have a TMDL permit that will set new requirements for both new construction and retrofit. But in the whole Charles River Basin, the contribution from DOT sources is only around 2%. The problem requires everyone, regardless of source, to take action.
Mr. Zimmerman noted that where water rolls off the roads onto grass, that is already the best practice. It is in curbed and drained roads where more action is required. The maximum amount of nutrient/pollutant deposit is with a cold car start in a parking lot. CRWA and CLF have gone after DOT, but the science tells us that the most compelling problems are on 20% of the land area where commercial, industrial, and high density residential uses prevail.
Ms. Bowditch stated that there are current stormwater regulations, including MS4 federal permits for cities, towns, certain state properties, and industries, as well as federal, state, and local construction permits. However, it is her opinion that existing regulations will never be enough to clean up the water.
New regulations are being proposed for the Charles. New MS4 permits will be coming for all municipalities, and will require “good housekeeping” – street sweeping, catch basin cleaning, leaf litter control, as well as removal of illicit cross connections, and controls to comply with phosphorous limits. It is anticipated that these new permits will have a 10 year timeline to full compliance.
New private property “designated discharge permits” (RDA permits) will apply to commercial, industrial, institutional and high density residential properties over two acres in size in the Charles River watershed, starting with Milford, Bellingham, and Franklin. The estimated timeline will be five years. The towns can set up a stormwater utility.
Senator Eldridge inquired whether detergents still play a role in phosphorous pollution? Or fertilizers?
Ms. Bowditch responded that there is already a voluntary ban on phosphorous in dishwasher detergents by manufacturers. Mr. Martin pointed out that if the major contributor is gasoline combustion, why not reduce nutrients at the root cause? Mr. Zimmerman pointed out that one gas company is actually adding nitrogen to its gasoline, which is a real problem. 100% of what falls on a parking lot will eventually run into the soil. Some nutrients are adsorbed by soil, and some breaks down naturally.
Ms. Bowditch then discussed the CRWA estimates for costs to meet the stormwater requirements. There is a range of estimates, with CRWA estimating between $8,800 and 20,000 per acre of impervious cover; EPA estimating $11000 per acre in the three towns of Franklin, Bellingham, and Milford, and literature reviews suggesting estimates of $15,000 to $40,000 per acre.
For individual sites where costs are higher, CRWA recommends that trades should be allowed.
The benefits of success in reducing phosphorous from stormwater are many. The Charles River will be cleaner, there will be less flooding and more groundwater recharge. Some of the retrofits for highways and streetscapes result in more vegetation for cooler, cleaner air, traffic calming, and more resiliency in a changing climate.
Mr. Terry asked if all new development will be required to pay its way, and the answer is yes.
The question was raised as to whether these were one-time expenses, or ongoing costs? The answer wasn’t yet clear. Mr. Zimmerman stated that this infrastructure will help keep water out of pipes, which helps to meet the CSO discharge reduction goals.
Mr. Bartlett introduced Craig Lizotte from VHB who spoke about the survey, design, and engineering work that goes into evaluating a site and then designing and building stormwater infrastrucure. The work begins with a full site survey, evaluating existing conditions. The survey takes into account property lines, topography, buildings, impervious areas, wetlands and buffer zones, zoning easements, and environmental restrictions. There is a full geotechnical investigation, to determine such things as existing soil conditions and ground water elevations. A Geotechnical report is written to outline soil permeability rates, depth to the ground water table, and depth to bedrock, all of which are important components of the regulatory framework. Then, a site specific design is recommended, including engineered drawings and elevations when necessary. The proponent then needs to go to local and state boards for approvals, including site plan approvals, notice of intent with the conservation commission, building permits, and others. Construction can be expensive, with pipe and drainage structures, infiltration galleys, basins, swales, excavation costs, pavement, and landscaping, all of which are integral to the successful completion of the project.
VHB finds that costs vary, based on the site specific conditions. These can range in cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars if the site is very difficult. These high costs are true both for retrofit and for new construction. It is generally accepted that “doing it right” involves all these steps, and that containing runoff at the site will assist meeting other water quality goals “downstream”. We don’t want to treat water at the well head because we failed to treat stormwater in the watershed.
Mr. Callahan: Our charge on the Commission is to define the financial gap in needs for infrastructure generally. We are trying to estimate the unmet stormwater infrastructure dollar amount for Massachusetts. Is the number close to 50 million per town? If so, if we multiply times 351 cities and towns, that would be 17 billion! How do we develop that number?
Ms. Bowditch: You are looking for a factor to multiply by the number of impervious acres. That number will be very difficult to pin down. Some locations will be very expensive, and others will simpler. We may begin to find efficiencies. There is likely a range.
Commission members wondered whether stormwater costs are likely to be “one time” costs over the first ten years to retrofit existing problems, and then we are done except to require new development to include proven solutions? Or, is this an ongoing cost for landowners and municipalities?
Several members pointed out that even though the stormwater costs are high, they may be very cost-effective because they are a more modest cost than collecting and treating water in combined sewer/stormwater systems, or more modest than cleaning up water at the well head. Again, the frustration was expressed that we don’t have a good way to determine the most effective dollar for dollar approaches for the maximum net benefit to the watershed.
Mr. Zimmerman also reiterated that CRWA recommends that a trade function be built into any regulations. So that expensive sites can “buy” a solution on a simpler site. We need creative ways to drive down costs. We also will need an increase in the number of licensed professionals.
Mr. Bartlett mentioned that there is a worry that localized infiltration of untreated stormwater into the ground could inadvertently lead to pollution plumes, landowner liability, and other issues. EPA states that landowners must comply with all environmental laws, including laws that prohibit contamination of groundwater. How will landowners know if they are creating a problem and a liability? We need to study and integrate approaches.
Mr. Martin asked if there was anything to add about nitrogen pollution? Nitrogen is more an issue in saltwater areas, and it can have impacts on health and immune systems in humans.