Overview of Laws & Regulations

Introduction to Water Resource Protection in Massachusetts

Because water is a highly regulated resource, the health of our rivers depends on a myriad of federal, state and local laws. These laws, and ensuing policies and programs address pollution, water withdrawals, dams, transfers of water from one part of the state to another, and protection of wildlife habitat. The regulatory landscape of water protection is layered, with specific roles for federal, state and local entities. The federal government provides an overarching umbrella framework within which the state and local governments work. Federal laws, like the Clean Water Act, http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act (CWA), create programs to protect water resources and set minimum standards that states must meet. States design and implement programs to meet or exceed these standards; they cannot provide less protection. Many states take responsibility for implementing CWA protection programs themselves, with oversight from the federal government (this is called having ‘primacy’ or having a program ‘delegated’ to the state). Massachusetts is one of a few states that has chosen not to seek primacy for the CWA, and instead the federal government, in most cases the EPA, implements the programs. However, the state still sets standards and has other responsibilities as explained below. Federal and state governments both consider public involvement an important part of these regulatory programs. Citizens may review, comment and appeal decisions. The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and many of its members actively track state and federal actions that affect rivers in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, local governments manage threats to water resources that are very closely related to land use issues, such as wetlands protection and septic system regulation. In these cases, the state and/or federal government provides a framework and minimum standards that guide local governments in creating programs. Non-regulatory approaches supplement the regulations designed to protect water resources in Massachusetts. Using guidance documents, design standards, grant programs and policy, the state provides education and incentives as other ways to protect resources. Sometimes these approaches are more appropriate to address site-specific, or regional issues. Non-regulatory programs may stimulate innovation and new approaches to addressing a particular issue and may encourage activities that reach beyond the minimum required by law.