Senate Passes Drinking Water and Wastewater Reform

February 28, 2014

Boston – Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) voted in support of legislation combining reform with increased commitments to improve existing partnerships with cities and towns, grow municipal options while incentivizing best management practices and responsibly address water and wastewater infrastructure challenges in the Commonwealth. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.

“This bill makes substantial progress toward improving water and wastewater systems across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Ross. “At a time when our cities and towns continue to struggle financially, it is important that we provide the support necessary for them to meet their infrastructure needs.”

Senator Ross spoke in support of an amendment he filed that would require the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to report on the effectiveness of the matching grant program established in the bill. The report would include information on the number of towns taking advantage of this opportunity and total grant funding awarded, as well as any impact on MWRA member rates. Senator Ross was pleased to see this amendment adopted.

The bill significantly expands the spending capacity of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, formerly the Water Pollution Abatement Trust, with an increase from $88 million to $138 million and imposes a spending floor of 80 percent. To allow for more flexibility, the bill creates a sliding scale interest rate from 0 to 2 percent and establishes a principal forgiveness program for qualifying projects.

The Massachusetts Clean Water Trust currently holds a “AAA” rating from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s and is the only statewide municipal bond issuer to maintain a “AAA” from all three major rating agencies.

The bill also creates and allocated $3 million to a technical assistance program to be used for the development of asset management plans and to identify green infrastructure opportunities in the Commonwealth.

To aid coastal towns in developing alternative wastewater disposal options, the bill amends the Ocean Sanctuaries Act to create an approval process through DEP for discharging municipally treated wastewater into ocean sanctuaries.

To defray the cost of the entry fee, which often acts as a barrier for cities and towns wanting to join the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), DEP is also permitted to administer a matching grant program for communities seeking to join the MWRA or any other regional system.

Created by the Legislature in 1984 to provide wholesale water and sewer services, 61 communities are MWRA members, including 51 for drinking water purposes and 43 for wastewater purposes. Member communities still operate their own local distribution networks, which connect to the MWRA.

The bill also does the following:

  • Gives the Public-Private Partnership Oversight Commission authority to assist in evaluating proposal for public-private partnerships received by cities and towns;
  • Simplifies the regulatory burden of complying with Title V;
  • Encourages regional projects by allowing public entities to jointly apply for planning grants to develop water pollution abatement plans;
  • Requires DEP to disseminate regulations requiring interruption devices on newly installed or renovated irrigation systems; and
  • Requires the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to consult with the Division of Local Services to establish and publish guidelines for best management practices in water management.

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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