New Water Regulations a Major Disappointment

After many years of work to modernize the State’s water withdrawal regulations, the long-awaited final regulations as a result of Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) were issued on October 9, 2014. Unfortunately, despite several legal victories and repeated assurances from state officials that SWMI would improve the situation for the Ipswich River, the final regulations exempt over 85% of the withdrawals from any regulation at all despite the devastating well-documented impacts these withdrawals are having on our river. How can this be?

When the SWMI process began nearly 5 years ago, we asked for a few simple things which the state originally agreed to: that the definition of Safe Yield (the underlying legal principal in the Water Management Act) include environmental considerations, that all withdrawals comply with the state’s basic Water Conservation Standards and that water suppliers be required to consider less damaging alternatives where feasible. Unfortunately, none of this happened. Why? Simply put, politics.

Despite being one of the most well documented flow-depleted rivers in the state, most of our communities that rely on the river don’t have any conservation measures at all! Even today, we still have towns that lose over 40% of the water they take out of the river through leaky pipes and towns that use more than double the amount of water as the statewide average. Ultimately, all we are really asking for is for our communities to waste less water and for everyone to conserve during dry weather. These measures, if enacted would go a long way to improving our river. Is that too much to ask?

This outcome is a shame since several communities have shown us how easy it is to reduce water consumption and we have the science to conclusively demonstrate that we have enough water for both people and nature well into the future if managed wisely. Now that it appears that we won’t have regulations to help us, its time to dramatically increase the use of the non-regulatory tools in our tool box to reduce waste and lower water consumption.

The Ipswich River community was actively engaged in the entire process and provided more public input than any other watershed in the state. For example, people like long time river advocate Suzanne Sullivan of Wilmington submitted several written comment letters s and provided public testimony on multiple occasions. Your dedicated support and intimate involvement in the public process was inspirational and gives us the energy to continue the fight.

To view the new regulations, responses to your comments and supporting materials go to:

Twenty years later, Martin’s Brook in North Reading is still being pumped dry so the stream bed can be used by ATV’s as seen in this October 2014 photo. Photo: S. Sullivan

Twenty years later, Martin’s Brook in North Reading is still being pumped dry so the stream bed can be used by ATVs, as seen in this October 2014 photo. Photo: S. Sullivan


  1. Jim MacDougall - November 15, 2014

    As has always been the case, when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

    Save water every day and save energy if one wishes to make a real difference. Let’s make an effort to reduce our demand for water in all that we do. This will make permit allocations and registered withdrawals null.

    How? Learn how much water you are using and convert it to gallons per person per day for your household. Every year, try to reduce that amount by 5%. Its really easy. Until you get down to about 40 gallons per person per day or less. With household demands for water that low, the rivers will remain flush with water all year long.

  2. Paul Lauenstein - November 7, 2014

    The Safe Yield water withdrawal limits are based on a misinterpretation of the Fish and Flow study commissioned by state agencies as part of the Sustainable Water Management Initiative. The Safe Yield limits are higher than current withdrawals in every basin in Massachusetts, even those classified as highly stressed by the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission. The end result is virtually no protection for freshwater resources in Massachusetts for at least 20 more years, and further erosion of public faith in government.

    These issues are compounded by the urgent need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Water supply requires a significant percentage of the energy use in America (see: SWMI effectively exempts the water supply sector from contributing to the greenhouse gas emission goal of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act–a whopping 80% reduction by 2050.