Sustainable Water Management Initiative
“Swimmie” is the nickname for the state’s “Sustainable Water Management Initiative” (SWMI). This is a major effort by the state environmental agencies to develop a better way to allocate and protect the state’s water. To learn more about the initiative, click here.
The State has also just developed an interactive map which presents a graphic display of biological categories and groundwater withdrawal levels (formerly flow levels) developed through the SWMI process for the Massachusetts Water Indicators (MWI) 1400-scale subbasins.
The overall goal of SWMI, from IRWA’s perspective, is to have enough clean water for both people and the environment.
The project includes some excellent new science by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mass. Department of Fish & Game. They have done yeoman’s work analyzing data about fish populations, water deficits and impervious cover (among other things) to provide the best information we have ever had to guide protection and sustainable management of our rivers. I want to especially thank Todd Richards of MADFG and USGS for the great work they are doing on this project; this is government at its very best!
We can now identify how much alteration of summer flows and/or impervious cover that river fish populations can tolerate, and how much they decline with increased alteration. The technical team has used this information to develop “categories” (from near-pristine, 1 to highly degraded, 5) that describe the existing condition of all Massachusetts rivers and streams. Now, the state agencies are working to develop “criteria” that could be applied (in regulations and permitting decisions) to ensure that healthy rivers do not become degraded, and that degraded rivers improve. The agencies also plan to propose a methodology for “safe yield.”
Given the high level of the science that is now available, there is reason for optimism that SWMI could really result in improved protection for our rivers. It can, and should. However, it is not yet clear that it will; the jury is still out.
There are some signals that the state agencies may not use this information to improve protection meaningfully. For example, so far much of the advice that environmental representatives have given regarding “safe yield” has been disregarded.
IRWA and others continue to hope for, and work toward, a positive outcome for this once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve truly sustainable management of our rivers. Governor Patrick and the state agencies made a commitment to ensure improved protection of our rivers, and we will continue to work toward that result.
IRWA Comment Letters regarding SWMI
Comments on Water Management Act (WMA) permitting in Ipswich River Watershed, August 2009 (pdf)
Additional Links of Interest:
EEA Website for the Sustainable Water Management Initiative
Mass Rivers Alliance Updates on Sustainable Water Management Initiative