News Brief: State auditor calls for holistic approach to water infrastructure needs

To bolster state-municipal collaboration, a study recommends Governor Baker convene a statewide summit to educate localities about the infrastructure challenges presented by climate change and the steps needed to protect their water systems.

Boston — State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump Tuesday called on state and local leaders to collaborate on a holistic approach to meeting the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure needs. Bump made the announcement as her office’s Division of Local Mandates released a study on the status of municipal water systems in the Commonwealth, which found that communities report total unmet water system spending needs of at least $17.8 billion over the next 20 years.

The study was based on the responses to a survey conducted by Bump’s office of cities and towns in Massachusetts on their local water system investments and funding sources. A total of 146 cities and towns responded to the survey, representing 42 percent of the state’s municipalities. Respondents include 88 percent of all cities and towns with populations greater than 50,000.

To bolster state-municipal collaboration, the study recommends Governor Baker convene a statewide summit to educate localities about the infrastructure challenges presented by climate change and the steps needed to protect their water systems. The report reveals that only 6 percent of municipalities report having water infrastructure climate change plans or policies in place. It also highlights the need for greater regional collaboration among municipalities sharing a common watershed; only 36 percent of survey respondents reported being members of a regional collaborative on water infrastructure planning and management. The study also calls for an annual $50 million in additional state water infrastructure grants for the next decade. In addition, Bump is calling for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to assume responsibility from the federal government for the issuance of MS4 storm water permits in order to better align expectations and oversight for municipalities as MassDEP already issues permits for drinking water and wastewater systems. Massachusetts is one of only four states in which the federal government issues these permits directly.