U.S. Water News Online
BOSTON -- As water demands continue to strain many
Massachusetts rivers, the state is developing a new water
conservation policy that aims to prevent rivers from drying up.
The state has many river basins it considers "stressed," such as
the Charles River basin and SuAsCo, which is made up of the Sudbury,
Assabet and Concord rivers and surrounding land. The Assabet River
flows north about 30 miles from its headwaters in Westborough, and
the Sudbury River also has its beginnings in Westborough, flowing
eastward from the Great Cedar Swamp toward Framingham.
Concern about water levels has led to new limitations on
groundwater withdrawals from stressed basins, but without a
comprehensive statewide policy, officials worry rivers could become
Vandana Rao, assistant director for water policy at the state
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, said at a public hearing
in Westborough that her agency wants to make sure no more bodies of
water reach the precarious state suffered by the Ipswich River.
"We don't want this to happen anywhere else in the state," she
said. "We don't want our rivers to get so dry that you're able to
walk on it for most of the summer."
Rao described the major recommendations of the state's proposed
water policy, released in draft form. The state will take public
comments for most of July before releasing a final version.
The policy will recommend, among other things, an extensive
assessment of the health of rivers, new water conservation standards,
limiting the amount of clean water directed to treatment plants, and
reducing stormwater runoff in developments to make sure water makes
its way back into the ground.
About a dozen officials and residents from local towns attended
the meeting at the Forbes Municipal Building in Westborough. Dan
Morgado, Shrewsbury's town manager, said his town is having trouble
providing enough water for a population that soared 31 percent from
1990 to 2000.
He complained about inequities in water usage, saying Shrewsbury
has enforced water bans while communities served by the Massachusetts
Water Resources Authority seem to have a plentiful supply.
The new standard limiting the amount of water communities draw
from stressed river basins should apply statewide, regardless of the
community's water source, he said.
Rao agreed, saying "You're right. We need to have a standard that
applies commonly for everybody."
Morgado also complained about the makeup of the task force that is
devising the new water policy, saying it lacks members from
fast-growing communities like Shrewsbury.
The 22-member task force includes municipal officials from
Brockton, Worcester and Leominster, as well as state and federal
officials, environmentalists and business interests.
A solution to the state's water problem must be found soon, said
Mary Pratt, a Hopkinton selectman.
"We're overdeveloping and our wetlands are disappearing," she
said. "Eventually we're going to have problems that won't be
John Craycroft, of Westborough-based Cedar Swamp Conservation
Trust, echoed Rao's concerns.
"We're in the most stressed water resource areas in the state,"
says Craycroft, referring to the I-495 corridor.
The towns of Westborough and Hopkinton have a combined five wells
pulling water from Cedar Swamp, deemed an Area of Critical
Environmental Concern. The problem, Craycroft said, is that the swamp
is not being recharged as fast as its being drained.
In addition, Craycroft said there have been an estimated 500 new
homes built in the areas surrounding Cedar Swamp in the last 10
years. He said most of those homes are on private wells. Even though
those homes get some water recharge, the increase in the number of
wells taxes the swamp's water supply.
His organization is concerned that more wells are either planned
or have been considered by both Hopkinton and Westborough.
"It may get worse if we pull more water out," he said.
Craycroft agrees with Rao's take about having the state implement
watershed permitting designed to protect a region in which towns make
water decisions in step with neighboring towns. Hopkinton and
Westborough, for example, pull from the same water source and rarely
talk to each other, Craycroft said.
"We need to look at water as a regional resource," he said. "The
state should look at it from a wider VIEW."
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