From devastating storms to deadly wildfires, climate change is taking us to extremes.
With governments everywhere looking for answers, the Massachusetts legislature has the opportunity to take action now to mitigate one impact of climate change: more frequent and severe droughts. In fact, the Commonwealth just declared the southeastern region of the state to be experiencing drought. Having such a statement early in the season does not bode well for our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.
A bill before the legislature and backed by the Neponset Watershed Association (NepRWA) would give the state the power to require uniform outdoor watering restrictions across the region during severe droughts. Currently, watering restrictions are left to local cities, leading to a patchwork of policies that provide limited relief to our water basins.
Like the rest of Massachusetts, the Neponset Watershed has experienced more frequent and severe droughts over the past decade. For example, in the summer of 2016 average flow on the Neponset River hit a record low for three consecutive months for the first time in 76 years of record. Some tributaries, such as the Pine Tree Brook in Milton, dry up completely.
As a result of this decrease in discharge, we saw several indicators of an unhealthy river. Sampling data revealed pathogen levels were increasing dramatically everywhere (there wasn’t enough water to dilute the pollution). Walking along the river, we saw almost dry ponds and wildlife trapped in the streams which became isolated ponds filled with algae. In addition, we saw algae blooming significantly across the watershed. All of these have a significant influence on the recreational and aesthetic values of the watershed.
And while the physical effects are devastating, what is also striking is how inconsistent efforts are across different communities and categories of water users to minimize the impact of their use of water (drawn from groundwater) not only on the environment but also on drinking water supplies.
Outdoor water use increases residential water consumption by 10-50% during the peak summer months. As such, the water supply is often strained during the summer due to dry conditions and excessive outdoor water use. Restricting outdoor water use is the most cost-effective method of conserving water during this peak season, especially when droughts occur. Currently, many municipalities impose seasonal water restrictions, but the lack of uniformity reduces the effectiveness of these policies.
A law currently being submitted to the legislature, H.898/S.530, would give the Minister of Energy and Environmental Affairs the authority to implement water conservation measures across the region during droughts. Restrictions will apply to all non-essential outdoor uses of water, including those using private wells. The bill would authorize the secretary to gradually increase these restrictions as drought levels worsen. Importantly, these restrictions will not apply to indoor water uses, nor will they apply to essential outdoor water uses such as agricultural uses, livestock raising uses, and to fulfill core business functions (such as irrigation for golf courses or factories). ). nursery).
The enactment of this bill is needed now. They are implementing a strong water conservation strategy adopted through the commonwealth’s 2019 Drought Management Plan, which makes us more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
At NepRWA, our mission is to preserve the Neponset River and its tributaries for future generations. Water does not respect city limits. Advocating for reasonable (and regional) water conservation measures is critical to carrying out the mission.
If you would like to help, please contact your state representative and senator and ask them to support enactment of H.898/S.530 before the end of the legislative session.
Kerry Snyder is the advocacy director of the Neponset Watershed Association.