One of the nicest aspects about living in New England is our lack of weather extremes.
Sure, we have the occasional oppressive summer and never-ending winter, but we can only imagine how people in the Midwest and Southwest deal with the constant threat of devastating tornadoes and withering drought.
In rain-starved states like California, water rationing is a way of life. Here in Massachusetts, where an ample water supply is taken for granted, conservation is nonetheless practiced in the many communities served by wells and other underground water sources.
Thanks to those efforts, the state’s water usage has actually declined over the past several years.
That’s why new, potentially costly regulations mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection are reasons for concern, according to an Acton-based industry group that represents water suppliers, consulting engineers and equipment manufacturers.
The new rules, called the Sustainable Water Management Initiative, or SWMI, would determine what’s known as a safe yield — the amount of water that can be withdrawn during drought conditions. Other criteria would be to establish seasonal water-flow levels, and to determine how much water can be drawn from a source in the future.
Under a court order, the DEP recalculated safe-yield levels for the 27 major basins in the state, which include the Merrimack, Concord, Nashua and Shawsheen rivers.
Water districts that exceed the DEP-determined usage limits would need to compensate for that overdraft by instituting conservation or water-expansion improvements.
That, according to Jennifer Pederson, executive director of the Water Works Association, removes the capital needed to maintain a water district’s infrastructure, and would trickle down to ratepayers, who would ultimately foot the bill.
We understand the DEP’s wish to be ready for worst-case scenarios, so as to ensure this precious resource will always be available. State officials say they’re prepared to be flexible on how water districts make up for overuse, including offering grants to help pay for projects.
We also heard from the heads of both the Chelmsford and Dracut water-supply districts, who said people in their positions are the ultimate conservationists, whose efforts benefit the environment at the cost of their own bottom line.
There also are economic-development impacts that could hamstring the commonwealth’s efforts to entice the clean, high-tech businesses every state covets.
The “dry” nature of this issue has kept it under the radar for the most part, but these new regulations will likely be in place by the end of the year.
During the current comment period, presentations of these proposed regulations will be held throughout the state, including on May 14 at Town Hall in Wilmington. The presentation will be held from 10-11:30 a.m., followed by a public-comment period from noon to 2 p.m.
Considering the stakes, we would encourage any concerned citizen or water-district representative to attend and make their feelings known.