Author Archives: MCWRS

MCWRS Board Member, Joshua Schimmel, Invited to White House Infrastructure Summit

Schimmel Infrastructure Summit

When the White House wanted to make sure the water industry would be represented at its Infrastructure Summit, MCWRS Board Member Joshua Schimmel was invited to the table. Schimmel, Executive Director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, and Chris Cignoli, Springfield Department of Public Works Director, joined a group of bipartisan governors, mayors, and other local officials for a series of working sessions with cabinet secretaries in June, The Republican reported.

The summit, held a few weeks after President Trump released his infrastructure plan, aimed to brainstorm ways the federal government can remove or mitigate regulatory and permitting barriers to completing infrastructure projects. The dire condition of the nation’s infrastructure has been well documented and will require many billions of dollars just to catch up on backlogs. The participants discussed ideas for streamlining onerous permitting processes and accelerating project schedules. Firm deadlines on review periods, for example, would eliminate the open-ended nature for some permits. Shorter timelines mean less money spent and increased productivity, two key advantages for local utilities and municipalities.

Other strategies include creating more funding opportunities for infrastructure projects, perhaps in the form of federal support with matching funds from state and local governments.

Schimmel said his invitation to the summit demonstrates that “there is a commitment to infrastructure investment and reduction in the regulatory and permitting burden to utilities and municipalities.”

A separate water infrastructure breakout session was scheduled but ultimately combined with other categories. “Although there seems to be more of a focus on highways and bridges,” Schimmel added, “there has been an open dialogue with water and sewer advocacy groups to increase awareness within the administration.” President Trump’s remarks to attendees specifically call out “new locks and dams, new pipes for our water,” as examples of infrastructure investments his administration will prioritize. Those pipes for our water are underground and often forgotten, so the awareness of the need at the highest levels is critical.

MCWRS is grateful to Director Schimmel for taking time to travel to Washington to represent water and sewer infrastructure at the national level, and for pushing for the protection of municipalities’ interests and fiscal responsibility in maintaining and updating water infrastructure.

MCWRS’s Workshop Discusses the Future of New England’s Rivers

On March 21, MCWRS hosted a free workshop on the future of New England’s rivers at the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission. Coalition members and non-members were invited to learn about these timely topics. Ed Capone, Service Coordination Hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northeast River Forecast Center (NERFC) presented his work forecasting river flows. The NERFC, one of 13 river forecast centers in the U.S., monitors Massachusetts’s six major river watersheds and works to protect life and property. At NERFC, Mr. Capone and the team calibrate and implement hydrologic and hydraulic models and produce temperature and precipitation forecasts to provide (1) river flow and stage forecasts, (2) guidance on the rainfall needed to produce flash flooding, (3) streamflow predictions, (4) ice jam and dam break support, and (5) water supply and reservoir inflow forecasts.

NOAA studies whole watersheds, and understands that its stakeholders, like the Coalition, are interested in an integrated approach to flooding, water quality, water availability, drought, and climate change, to understand both near- and long-term risks. Mr. Capone reported on observed trends in climate change, such as the increase in amounts and intensity of annual precipitation, warming annual temperatures, and extreme seasonal variations in snowfall that are trending, overall, downward in total amounts. Most notably, intense precipitation events (the heaviest 1%) have increased by 74% in the Northeast, the highest increase in the country. This is reflected in the rise in flooding frequency, especially minor flooding, for smaller watersheds and highly urbanized areas, as well as magnitude. Significant snow storms in the Northeast have also dramatically increased, particularly in the past decade. He explained that the amount of moisture in snow determines the amount of runoff, so a large storm of “dry” snow may have little impact. In terms of Massachusetts’s drought, Mr. Capone explained that drought periods are not uncommon and can happen despite an increase in rainfall.  One of the challenges in managing drought is that the definition can vary by state. He observed that a precipitation deficit may trigger water conservation measures when ground and surface water supplies are actually unaffected.

For Massachusetts and New England, the increase in flooding is related to more slow-moving storms, multiple events in close succession, and a tropical connection. New England’s proximity to Gulf and Atlantic moisture streams and the blocking effects of weather systems to the north play a role, as does even modest changes in ocean and air temperatures that allow the atmosphere to hold more water. The region has been a hotspot for record floods and rainfall over the past 10 years, along with increased yearly rainfall and annual temperatures.

Steven Wolosoff, Senior Environmental Scientist at CDM Smith, discussed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Long Island Sound Nitrogen Reduction Strategy and its impacts in Massachusetts. Mr. Wolosoff explained that the issue is hypoxia, or low dissolved oxygen (DO), in the western portions of Long Island Sound (LIS) in the summer months, which affects bottom dwelling organisms that cannot move away from the area. A 1985 LIS study attributed hypoxia to increases in human wastewater, which led the agency to create a use impairment indicator and hierarchy evaluation system. The 2000 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study required specific actions, including a 58.5% reduction in nitrogen from in-basin (New York and Connecticut) sources from publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), and created a trading program. It also required that out-of-basin sources from Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada reduce treatment plant contributions by 25%, nonpoint sources by 10%, and atmospheric deposition by 18%.

Since then, there has been a dramatic reduction of 51.5% in nitrogen contributions from Connecticut and New York WWTPs and the number of days with hypoxia has been reduced. Despite this, in 2015, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment petitioned EPA Regions 1 and 2 to develop a new or amended TMDL, stating that planned actions are not sufficient, climate change will worsen impairments in western LIS, nonpoint source treatment is insufficient, and there is new evidence of embayment impairments. EPA has moved forward with changes, focusing on additional nitrogen removal and addressing embayments Mr. Wolosoff noted that the changes to allowable nitrogen loads amount to a revised TMDL, not a reduction strategy.

Nitrogen sources include atmospheric deposition, wastewater treatment plant effluent, stormwater runoff, septic systems, agricultural runoff, and natural background (or ambient) amounts. EPA’s goal is to reach the natural, pre-colonial levels of nitrogen in LIS, which is not feasible or practical. All out-of-basin sources, including all Massachusetts sources, are already below pre-colonial levels. And, when attenuation is factored in, little benefit is derived from requiring additional controls. He added that the western LIS is most affected by hypoxia, yet Massachusetts’s contribution is to the eastern end. Also, links to local embayments are unclear.  The science indicates that sources in New York and Connecticut immediately adjacent to LIS are the dominant sources of nitrogen and dwarf inputs from other areas of New England. Mr. Wolosoff reviewed lower-cost options for reduction at treatment plants, but noted that stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) are more cost-effective than changes to WWTPs. The most effective BMPs appear to be yard waste pick up, street sweeping, and catch basin cleaning, which address the largest sources. When monitoring for DO, it’s important to note where samples are taken, as levels vary by depth, and should be conducted before and after measures are implemented. As the Coalition has noted previously, EPA has not engaged with Massachusetts stakeholders on what amounts to a TMDL revision that will significantly impact them.

You can learn about Nitrogen Trading at the Coalition’s 8th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on May 17 in Marlborough. Stay tuned for future free workshops on other timely and regional topics.

Gov. Baker Re-files Legislation for MassDEP to Assume Authority of NPDES Permit Program

Breaking News! The Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship is excited to announce that Governor Baker has just re-filed legislation to delegate authority of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Currently, Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation whose NPDES program is administered federally by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On March 8, Governor Baker, joined by Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton and MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg, met with the press and members of the public to announce the re-filing. MCWRS Director Josh Schimmel attended as the spokesperson for the Coalition, and he was joined on the stage by several of our members. To aid the transition, Governor Baker also allocated $1.4 million in the FY2018 state budget proposal for MassDEP staff.

This legislation was originally filed in April 2016, but the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) sent it to study at the end of the last legislative season, effectively killing it. If the legislation is passed, it will be part of a submittal made by MassDEP to EPA Region 1. As previously reported, “MassDEP will be required to demonstrate that it has developed an effective plan for managing the program, that its legal authorities are sufficient to meet federal requirements, and that a plan for funding is in place.”

In Governor Baker’s remarks, he emphasized that giving MassDEP authority for the NPDES program will ensure practical and big picture decisions are made to support holistic, integrated water management. The Commonwealth knows its waters best and will work with communities as partners, so they understand how permits are developed. He also announced that $4.7 million will be included in the budget annually as a dedicated line item to pay for the comprehensive program. “Having MassDEP manage the NPDES program will benefit communities by providing a perspective that is more attune to local issues and is more consistent with state goals and values,” MCWRS President Phil Guerin explained. “A single agency to oversee all water-related regulatory matters also provides greater opportunity for municipalities to successfully implement integrated water resources planning and address multiple regulatory requirements and community infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.”

The Coalition applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, and MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg for continuing to push for this critically necessary change. Watch the Governor’s video announcement and read the press release for more information.

Stay tuned for future updates on this matter. As in 2016, we will need our members to support this legislation by reaching out to their Senators and Representatives.

Governor Baker Allocates Funding for MassDEP NPDES Staff

On January 25, Governor Baker filed the fiscal year (FY) 2018 state budget proposal, totaling $40.5 billion. In the budget, the Baker-Polito Administration allocated $1.4 million for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to assume delegated authority of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Specifically, the money would fund 12 MassDEP staff members to begin transitioning the program from EPA to MassDEP. This funding is far from the total amount needed to run the NPDES program effectively (estimated at $6 million), but is a good first step to do the groundwork and position MassDEP to take over the program.

However, for MassDEP to officially assume authority, Governor Baker must refile the appropriate legislation. This legislation, formerly Bill H.4254, was originally filed in April 2016. MCWRS President Phil Guerin testified at the May 17, 2016 legislative hearing on behalf of the Coalition urging the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) to pass the legislation. Unfortunately, the bill was sent to study in June 2016 and no action was taken. Local environmental advocacy organizations have historically opposed the transition, citing MassDEP’s limited budget and their concern that the agency might be vulnerable to state politics.

Currently, EPA Region 1 administers the program in Massachusetts, while 47 other states manage their own NPDES permitting. The Coalition has advocated for this transfer since 2007 and in January 2016, we penned a position paper outlining our argument for primacy, with key caveats. As previously reported, this legislation would not remove EPA from the permitting process and MassDEP already has delegated authority for drinking water and air quality permit programs. The Coalition believes that EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach does not consider location-specific environmental, social, and economic factors. MassDEP management of the program would also provide greater opportunity for municipalities to pursue integrated water resources planning. Integrated plans allow communities to address multiple regulatory requirements and infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.

MCWRS has established a strong working relationship and open lines of communication with MassDEP and will continue to promote municipal interests. The Coalition hopes that MassDEP’s assumption of delegated authority will allow communities to balance environmental protection and fiscal constraints in a cooperative and realistic permitting process. MCWRS intends to support the Governor’s legislation through testimony and meetings with key legislators during the current session. Read the Coalition’s blog for more details on our history of advocating for primacy.

MCWRS Reflects on 2016 Successes and Kicks off 2017 with a Bang!

MCWRS wishes to thank all our members and partner organizations for their continued support in 2016. As we launch 2017, we’re taking a look back at last year’s accomplishments.

We fought EPA on the MA MS4 Permit. After EPA issued the Final Permit in April, MCWRS rallied  communities and jointly filed a Petition for Review of the Final Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer General Permit (MS4). The appeal was filed with the Town of Franklin in the First Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Boston. Briefing motions were filed in November and the Court is expected to set a briefing schedule soon. For more information, please visit our website.

We continued to advocate for MassDEP’s management of the NPDES program. In April, Governor Baker filed legislation for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to take over the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1. MCWRS President and Chairman, Phil Guerin, provided testimony at the hearing on this bill in May and we submitted a comment letter in June. MCWRS will continue to advocate for this transfer of authority and urge the Governor to refile the legislation this session.

We launched our new visual identity. At the start of 2016, we presented a new look which reflects who we are as an organization and our growing role as the voice for environmental, social, and fiscal responsibility. Our branding was first revealed at the MA Municipal Association (MMA) Trade Show and it helped our materials stand out at the 2016 Symposium.

We expanded our educational opportunities. The Coalition continued to host free workshops in conjunction with our Board meetings. In March, participants heard an update on biosolids disposal regulations and learned about phosphorus removal technologies and capabilities. The June workshop focused on drinking water and featured a presentation on MassDEP’s Assistance Program for Lead in School Drinking Water, as well as an overview of emerging contaminants. Stay tuned for more workshops in 2017!

We had our largest Annual Symposium to date. The Coalition’s 7th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium in May was a major success! The event attracted over 115 participants and featured many prominent speakers, including a keynote address from Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and presentations by representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). At the Symposium, MCWRS presented the 2016 Joseph J. Superneau Leadership Award to Ronald Labelle, former Commissioner of the Department of Public Infrastructure for the City of New Bedford who retired in 2016.

We welcomed new members. We welcomed new members in 2016 who joined for the fiscal year 2017, including the City of Melrose, and the towns of Leominster, Pepperell, and Wilbraham. We’re only halfway through the fiscal year, so there’s still time for you to join!

Our Board welcomed a new director and a new VP. The MCWRS Board of Directors welcomed Tom Holder, now the Director of Public Works in Wayland. President and Chairman Phil Guerin, Treasurer Cheri Cousens, and Secretary Bob Ward were reelected to their positions. Vonnie Reis was elected as the Executive Vice President and Vice Chair.

We continued to track important water resources policies, regulations, and issues. From EPA’s nitrogen reduction strategy for the Long Island Sound to MassDEP’s guidelines for performing infiltration/inflow (I/I) analyses, MCWRS continues to alert our members of interesting events, educational opportunities, regulatory hearings, and updates that matter to them.

We’re gearing up for another great year. The Coalition looks forward to more events and continued progress in 2017. Mark your calendar for the 8th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on May 17 at the Marriott Courtyard Boston Marlborough.

Western MA Communities Form Compact for Nitrogen Trading

Through the Commonwealth’s Community Compact Cabinet, nine communities in Western Massachusetts have joined together to create a regional approach to wastewater and stormwater management. The Connecticut River communities of Agawam, Chicopee, Granby, Hadley, Ludlow, Northampton, Southwick, Springfield, and West Springfield, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), will receive $111,550 from the Efficiency and Regionalization Grant Program to fund their project. The project aims to design a framework for nitrogen trading and to address stormwater requirements regionally, rather than each community independently.

Typically, credits are “determined by the difference between the discharge limit and the actual discharge over a set period” (The Environmental Trading Network). Nitrogen trading allows wastewater treatment facilities to buy and sell credits with other facilities to discharge nitrogen. This would allow a facility to purchase necessary credits if it is unable to meet its permit’s nitrogen limits without building additional infrastructure. PVPC’s Principal Environmental Planner, Patty Gambarini, explained that “some wastewater treatment plants have very small land area and the cost of expanding their facility to do this higher degree of treatment for nitrogen could be very expensive, whereas some wastewater treatment plants have more space and could do updates to treat to even to a higher degree and treat [its wastewater] with those who would like to buy credits” (The Reminder). Working collectively will allow the communities to pool their resources and staff to address water quality in the Connecticut River watershed more efficiently and adequately.

As previously reported, Massachusetts communities along the Connecticut River are facing more stringent National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particularly for nitrogen limits. These stricter regulations are tied to water quality issues, not only in Massachusetts, but also in the Long Island Sound watershed in Connecticut and New York. EPA is studying eutrophication in the Long Island Sound and is developing a Nitrogen Reduction Strategy to improve dissolved oxygen levels in the open waters. While communities bordering the Sound are collaborating to address this issue, little effort has been made to reach out to these upstream communities in Massachusetts.

MCWRS applauds the Connecticut River communities for collaborating on this initiative to address a common struggle in the most efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable manner. We are pleased that the Baker-Polito Administration continues to expand funding opportunities and cooperative programs that help tackle water resources issues. Attend our 8th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on May 17 to hear a panel discussion on nitrogen trading with a representative from Connecticut’s successful program. Invited speakers may also include a representative from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

EPA Hosts LIS Nitrogen Reduction Strategy Webinar

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its contractor, Tetra Tech, hosted a webinar about the Long Island Sound Study and its progress on the Nitrogen Reduction Strategy on December 19, 2016. The Nitrogen Reduction Strategy was created to meet a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to help alleviate hypoxia caused by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the open waters of the Sound. Tetra Tech will use existing hydrodynamic models and “good data” from existing studies to develop nitrogen thresholds and loads for the Sound, and allocation options (Mike Paul, Tetra Tech). The data is sourced from various universities, watershed groups, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and can date back to the 1970s. There does not appear to be a commitment to a new comprehensive sampling program, and how historical data will be screened to determine its accuracy and usefulness is not clear. Utilizing older data, from a multitude of sources, with inconsistent and non-uniform collection techniques as the foundation for science-based rulemaking does not make sense.

EPA repeatedly emphasized that transparency is critical in this process and the importance of collaborating with neighboring states and partners. However, EPA failed to truly embrace the public process, noting that it does not intend to do extensive outreach to the communities in neighboring states affected by the Strategy. Instead, it hopes that state agencies will reach out to the communities, and that other entities will periodically “check in” on the website for program updates. An EPA representative explicitly stated that the Strategy would not be open to public comment because they did not want to “be overwhelmed by having to respond to each comment.” EPA and Tetra Tech said comments may be accepted through an online form for certain technical documents, but that they are not required to respond to them, because it is not a rulemaking process. According to an EPA representative, a public meeting was held in Massachusetts explaining the Study and Strategy in May and that periodic webinars would inform stakeholders on progress. The level of outreach EPA intends to do to notify communities of the webinars is unclear. So far, for the most part, the process has been under the radar.

Becky Weidman of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is one of the only Massachusetts representatives on any of the 12 different advising committees. The Science and Technical Advisory Committee guiding the Study and developing the criteria is made up of a variety of universities, colleges, environmental groups, and government agencies from Connecticut and New York. Massachusetts municipalities and utilities have no significant representation on any committees. MCWRS acknowledges EPA’s efforts to inform the public and focus efforts on LIS communities. However, Massachusetts communities should also be actively and directly involved in the planning process, since they will ultimately be issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits reflecting the results of the study. Retrofitting wastewater treatment plants to meet stringent nitrogen limits can exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. When science-based studies are utilized to develop criteria for revised TMDLs and for setting nutrient limits in NPDES permits, it sounds like rulemaking, which requires a prescribed public comment period and process. ‘Hoping’ that State partners will update permittees and communities about the Study is disingenuous and subverts the spirit of the rulemaking process. Not surprisingly, the webinar reemphasized a well-known issue in the tenuous relationship between EPA and municipalities/utilities; EPA touts public involvement, working with communities, and relying on ‘good’ science, but often fails to put its words into action.