The patchwork of policies and laws that currently governs water withdrawals in New England does not protect the region’s water resources. As the population continues to expand into rural and other low-density areas, pressure on small streams and their aquatic populations will only increase. In order to both provide drinking water resources for these communities and maintain the rivers and streams that support our quality of life, each of the New England states must reconsider its approach to surface water and groundwater withdrawals. The recommendations below provide guidance for a common path forward to sustain our communities and our waterways into the future.
1. Permitting Statutes
Each of the New England states should adopt new, or modernize existing, laws and policies that govern how water is used. Specifically:
2. Streamflow Standards
States should adopt meaningful streamflow standards that protect aquatic life. These standards should be based on the natural variation in stream flows.
States should collect better data regarding the size and capacity of aquifers, water withdrawal rates, projected demand, and stream habitat. States should develop comprehensive databases and maps regarding existing groundwater and surface water sources. More streamflow gauges should be installed to provide information to support the development of more protective streamflow standards.
4. Local Development Decisions
States should work with towns to ensure that local development decisions consider effects on watershed health. Local officials should coordinate with state water planning agencies to consider impacts of water use, wastewater disposal and effect of new imperviousness on streamflows.
5. Water Conservation
Each of the New England states should adopt a comprehensive program to create incentives or mandate water conservation by users and delivery efficiency by suppliers. Programs might include:
6. Absolute Ownership
The common law of absolute ownership – which allows a landowner to withdraw the groundwater below his property, regardless of the impact on other water users or surface flows – should be overturned by statute in those states where it remains in effect.