Landmark Decision Involving the Water Management Act

In a landmark decision, the Norfolk Superior Court (Brady, J.), ruled that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not have the authority to impose conditions upon public water suppliers’ use of water under registration statements issued in accordance with the Water Management Act. Under the Water Management Act, public water suppliers who withdrew more than 100,000 gallons of water per day prior to passage of the Act were permitted to register those withdrawals as a means of grandfathering such uses. The Act provides that public water suppliers could continue such registered withdrawals as long as they applied for renewal every ten years. Registration statements came up for renewal in 2007, and as part of the process, DEP imposed conditions limiting the amount of water that could be used for residential purposes. Thirteen communities filed complaints in the Superior Court seeking to have the conditions stricken from the renewed registrations. The Superior Court consolidated the cases and ruled that the clear legislative intent of the Water Management Act was to grandfather existing withdrawals and no provision of the Act expressly permitted DEP to impose conditions on registered withdrawals. Accordingly, the Court issued a judgment requiring DEP to accept all registration renewal applications without condition. Although DEP is likely to appeal, at this juncture, public water suppliers who received registration renewals in 2007 are not required to adhere to those conditions. Kopelman and Paige, P.C. represented five of the 13 plaintiffs – Harwich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Millis, North Reading, and Brockton.