Shrewsbury – It has been said by world leaders, scientists and economists that “water is the new gold” and that the “next great war will be over water.” The issue of water may not have reached that critical a stage yet in central Massachusetts, but it is still a significant factor in every part of our lives. That was the consensus of several legislators who participated in a forum March 30 hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) in Shrewsbury.
The forum, which was held at the Veterans, Inc. building, was one in a series of events sponsored by the LWV on different issues regarding water. The series was developed after Shrewsbury residents expressed an interest in learning more about the town's water and wastewater infrastructures during last year's Town Meeting, when several articles related to water were discussed, according to Melanie Petrucci of the LWV.
At the March 30 event, State Senators Michael Moore, D – Millbury and Jamie Eldridge, D -Acton and State Representatives Matthew Beaton, R – Shrewsbury and Carolyn Dykema, D –Holliston, were invited to speak about some of the different water and wastewater rules and regulations that municipalities are currently mandated to follow.
Eldridge spoke of the legislative group he is currently chairing, the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission (WIFC).
“Not a lot of people think of water and the associated costs,” he said. “There are not a lot of thoughts that we will run out of it.”
The commission's four main goals, he said, were to: 1) do a needs analysis regarding water across the commonwealth; 2) study how innovative technology could help; 3) address the issue of municipal financing – in essence, find ways to help towns with the increasing costs of financing not only water but wastewater; and 4) analyze short- and long-term revenue issues – assess ways that municipalities can pay for renovations to new facilities and/or build new infrastructures.
“Water is not only critical for quality of life but also critical to the environment and economic growth,” he said. “There needs to be a proper investment in it.
“This commission is exactly what we need,” Beaton added. “We need to focus on preservation, but in a fiscally responsible way.”
Noting that Shrewsbury recently had “substantial” sewer increases, he asked, “How do we do upgrades but reduce fi- nancial costs to the taxpayers?”
Proposed federal mandates that will require even more stringent and expensive measures regarding water and wastewater also warrant close review, he said.
“Some findings [in recent federal reports] were ambiguous and arbitrary,” he said. “We need to look at the costbenefi t analysis. Who's going to pay for this and for how long?”
Moore agreed with his colleagues on the impact of mandated federal regulations on a community's finances.
“The federal government must do a realistic cost-benefit,” he said. “Some towns haven's even finished their first phase of their upgrades. Now they may be facing even more.”
Dykema, who serves on the WIFC with Eldridge, said she would like to see communities start talking about priorities and finding a balance between maintenance needs (such as fixing leaky pipes) and upgrades.
“There's a lot of commercial development in the Metrowest area,” Eldridge noted. “For municipalities to have to pay for all of this [regarding the issues of water and wastewater] is unsustainable. The federal government needs to step up also.”
Dykema agreed, and noted that the federal government paid 75 percent of the costs in the 1970s for water and wastewater plants.
“Those days are over,” she said.
There will be several other events in the water series this spring and summer, including a forum on wastewater and stormwater Wednesday, May 11, at Veterans Inc. More information may be found at http://Shrewsbury.ma.lwvnet.org.