Senate Passes Drinking Water and Wastewater Reform

by | Mar 3, 2014

BOSTON– On Thursday, February 27th, Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) announced that the Senate 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.

“As a Commonwealth, it is our responsibility to ensure that access to clean drinking water has no limitation, now and for future generations,” stated Senator Moore. “This bill takes the necessary first steps to address our critical water and wastewater infrastructure challenges. By ensuring a strong water infrastructure, we are directly ensuring strong health and economic well-being in Massachusetts.”

The bill 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.

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.

Two amendments filed by Senator Moore were included in the bill.

The first amendment reimbursed non-Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) communities, such as Auburn, Grafton, Millbury, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Upton and Worcester in the Second Worcester District, for sewer collection system rehabilitation.

“Currently in the Commonwealth, communities who are a part of the MWRA receive funding for costs in work done on sewer collection systems. However, non-MWRA communities, who have similar costs, are not granted the same privileges,” Senator Moore said. “This amendment is about providing economic development opportunities and relief from the burden of coping with remediation of aging water and wastewater infrastructure.”

Senator Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester) was a co-sponsor of the amendment.

“I am pleased the Senate adopted this common sense amendment, which will ensure that communities outside of the MWRA also receive the resources they need to maintain and upgrade their sewer systems,” said Senator Chandler.

“The original bill provided little in the way of grant assistance to communities outside of the MWRA.  Through the efforts of Senator Moore working with Senator Chandler, some equity has been restored in the form of state reimbursements for all communities for sewer collection system improvements and inflow/infiltration removal,” stated Philip Guerin, Director of Environmental Systems with the City of Worcester Department of Public Works & Parks.  He added that, “Worcester has spent millions of dollars on inflow/infiltration removal and tens of millions on sewer collection system rehabilitation.  The outlook for the near future is for that spending to increase into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Any state assistance is welcome by Worcester and other central Massachusetts communities.”

Senator Moore’s second amendment allows the Cherry Valley Sewer Commission to regionalize services if it would further the interests of the residents of the district.

The bill also creates and 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.

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.