This past Wednesday, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture heard testimony on the Sustainable Water Resources Act. This act would require the Department of Fish and Game to develop stream flow standards for the streams and rivers of the state and will allow communities to establish sustainable water resources funds by charging a fee for new water withdrawals or increased sewer use. The act also makes changes to the dam safety statute that help to promote dam removal and protect rivers.
This legislation will ensure that the ecosystem needs of streams and rivers are weighed equally with competing water withdrawals and supply needs. It is critically important that we put these standards in place now to provide important ecosystems with the ability to adapt to changes in our climate and hydrological regime. Summer low-flow periods coincide with increased water demand due to lawn watering and other irrigation uses, and we can no longer afford to see stream habitats entirely dry during these critical periods.
In Southeastern Massachusetts and the Blackstone Valley, increasing growth and water demand are putting added stress on critical ecosystems that are home to rare and endangered species. The establishment of a Sustainable Water Resources Fund will provide communities with ways to offset these added burdens by providing funds for projects that enhance local recharge of stormwater and wastewater and achieve water conservation through retrofits and water reuse. Protection of public water supplies will also be enhanced by removal of inflow and infiltration and land acquisition.
The proposed changes to the dam safety statute bring a larger number of dams under state jurisdiction and will increase the potential fines for dam safety violations, providing added safety and oversight for this critical infrastructure. The impact of dams on our aquatic ecosystems is significant, and efforts should be made to make dam removal a viable alternative for both dam owners and the commonwealth when managing decrepit, unused or abandoned dams.