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Commonwealth seeks federal water responsibilities

New legislation filed by Gov. Charlie Baker for the commonwealth to accept certain responsibilities under the federal Clean Water Act comes at an important time for Barnstable County towns.

On April 29, the Gov. Baker filed “An Act to Enable the Commonwealth’s Administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System” with the state House of Representatives and Senate.

In his filing letter, Gov. Baker wrote, “Compliance with permits can be very costly for Massachusetts municipalities and businesses; a program administered by Massachusetts would allow for increased flexibility, based on sound science, to meet permit requirements.”

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program regulates discharges of pollutants to waters of the United States through the issuance of discharge permits under the Federal Clean Water Act.

Massachusetts is one of four states not to adopt state-level regulation of the NPDES program from the federal government. This creates dual-agency responsibility for clean water permits, rather than responsibility resting with a single, state agency.

In the Section 208 Plan Update, the Cape Cod Commission recommended that the commonwealth seek such authority.

“As we said in the 208 Plan, with this authority delegated to the state, towns will have a more flexible, streamlined and defined process should their wastewater solutions require such a permit,” Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki said.

Niedzwiecki was familiar with the issue prior to commencing the Section 208 Plan Update in 2013. He served on the 2010-2012 Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Commission, which issued a final report in February 2012. Among other things, the report suggested that the state’s lack of primacy over federal clean water permits may hamper best outcomes.

In addition to possible permitting of new wastewater treatment operations, more than 250 municipalities are issued NPDES permits for stormwater discharges.

The request comes at an important time for the commonwealth and Barnstable County. U.S. EPA released its Massachusetts Small Permit MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer systems) General Permit in April. A series of public informational meetings are scheduled for this month, including one for Southeastern Massachusetts from 12:30 to 2 p.m. May 18 meeting at Cape Cod Community College.

Commission staff is coordinating with Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Barnstable County Coastal Resources Committee, and stormwater manager’s group for this workshop. More information about the meeting is available at the following link:

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