Proposed Budget Amendment – Water Supply Protection Trust
The Advisory Board has recently raised concerns over staffing levels a the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR’s) Division of Water Supply and Protection (DWSP). The Division fills the critical role of ensuring the quality of the MWRA’s public water supply, and understaffing could have many repercussions, including the requirement to build a filtration plan estimated to cost nearly $500 million.
Despite the fact that DWSP is fully funded by MWRA ratepayers and overseen by the Water Supply Protection Trust who have given direction to fill unfilled vacancies as quickly as possible, staffing levels have continued far below the levels required to fulfill DWSP’s mission. At the time of this writing, DWSP’s staffing has averaged 11% below 150 FTEs determined to be the appropriate level of staffing for the division.
The Advisory Board is proposing legislation that would amend the Chapter 149 of the Acts of 2004, which would reinforce the Water Supply Protection Trusts role in directly managing DWSP staffing and expenses to fill these positions as quickly as possible.
This letter was sent to Senate Leadership on May 18, 2021, and outlines our arguments for a legislative solution to administrative problem.
Chapter 149 of the Acts of 2004
Chapter 149 of the Acts of 2004 established the Water Supply Trust to oversee the Division of Water Supply Protection.
Click the image to view the excerpt of the law related to the Water Supply Protection Trust.
Mass DEP Reports Raise Concerns about DWSP Staffing Levels
Each year, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) inspects the Quabbin Reservoir, Ware River, and Wachusett watersheds specifically related to the MWRA’s ongoing waiver for filtration under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
This year’s reports have underscored the concerns raised by the Advisory Board, and discussed repeatedly by the Water Supply Protection Trust and the MWRA Board of Directors related to the Division of Water Supply Protection’s (DWSP’s) staffing levels.
In short, MassDEP expresses concerns that current levels of staffing – below DWSP’s previously identified needs – could impact critical watershed protection programs. MWRA and DCR DWSP will now be required to backfill critical vacancies or provide other strategies (e.g. contract services) to ensure all Watershed Protection Program workloads are met, and DCR will be reporting quarterly to MassDEP on the status of staffing as well as impacts to the watershed protection programs.
The Importance of the Watershed – Just the FAQs Video
Letters of Support
Keep the MWRA Board of Directors “As Is”
As the FY22 state budget process has unfolded, it has included language allowing the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to appoint a designee to represent her on the MWRA Board of Directors.
The Advisory Board, working with House Leadership, successfully removed that language from the final House version. The language has also been included in the Senate version, assuring that it will be part of conference committee deliberations? Why?
The MWRA is without doubt an environmental success story. It is, in fact, one of the best run and most accomplished entities created by the Commonwealth.
Over the past 36-plus years, they have cleaned up the Harbor, brought the Charles River back to life, provided the best drinking water in the country, maintained one of the highest bond ratings, and accomplished this without state appropriations. MWRA has spent over 7 billion dollars and has achieved ratepayer/community buy-in.
A major reason for this is due to the 11-member MWRA Board of Directors. The framers (writers) of the Enabling Act masterfully constructed a Board that provided 3 seats to the Governor, 3 seats to the communities through the Advisory Board, 3 seats to our largest community (Boston), along with seats to each of our host communities (Quincy and Winthrop). The Board’s dynamic — which does not give any entity a majority, guarantees dialogue as well give and take, and ultimately a resolution — works.
It mandated that the Secretary of EOEEA serve not only as a member but as the Board’s Chair.
This “hands on” approach for the environmental leader of Massachusetts has been critical in ensure that the MWRA’s environmental agenda has been set and vetted at the highest levels of government.
Without the Secretary mandated to be a part of the Board, the direct link will be gone, dissemination of information will be secondhand, and critical decisions possibly delayed.
Recommendation: The Advisory Board recommends that the MWRA Board of Directors direct Authority staff to communicate their concerns over the proposed changes to the MWRA Board of Directors composition with the Governor’s office and the House/Senate conference committees, urging them to keep the MWRA Board of Directors as it is currently composed.
It was worked for the past 12 secretaries over 36 years and should continue to do so.
Debt Service Assistance
The MWRA Advisory Board has worked throughout the years with its legislative partners to maintain funding for the Commonwealth Sewer Rate Relief Fund, also known as Debt Service Assistance (DSA). This year, the House has funded DSA, and the Advisory Board will continue to advocate that DSA be included in the final version of the FY22 budget. Debt Service Assistance has the largest and most profound impact upon MWRA ratepayers by directly reducing their assessment in the year following its receipt. We urge the Legislature to continue funding this critical line item.