BOSTON – The Senate on Thursday passed legislation 37-0 that combines 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.
“Wastewater does not respect town boundaries,” said Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) during the debate on the bill in the Senate chamber. “I am pleased that we are moving forward with legislation that addresses some of the biggest obstacles to providing our towns with clean, safe drinking water, while also working to protect the environment.”
Senate Bill 2016 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.
Among the several proposed amendments to the bill, Senator Wolf was pleased to see that two important amendments were passed. One amendment, sponsored by the senator himself, would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to expand its watershed permitting to address nitrogen management measures. Currently, the process requires town-by-town approval, which can result in a fractured or incomplete application of coverage. The passage of Senator Wolf’s amendment allows for a “whole watershed approach”.
Senator Wolf also cosponsored an amendment which changes current law regarding the conditions for which DEP may offer additional financial assistance to water infrastructure and wastewater projects. If signed into law, the amended language would expand their criteria to include projects required to provide a public water supply to a consumer whose public or private wells are impacted by contamination. “This is significant for towns, especially on the Cape, that do not have municipal water and cannot afford to clean up the contamination in their public and private wells.” said Senator Wolf.
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 legislation also 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.