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Massachusetts Watershed Initiative
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Some commonly used words and their definitions.
303d List 303 d refers to a section in the federal Clean Water Act requiring all states to submit, biennially to the EPA, a list of waterways not meeting assigned water quality standards. The 303 d is a list of the known impaired waters in a state or on tribal lands.
Agricultural Protection
Restrictions (APRs)
Similar to a conservation restriction, Chapter 132A Sec. 31 allows the state to purchase an Agricultural Preservation Restriction on farmlands, restricting use of the land to agricultural activities.


An underground geologic formation capable of holding large quantities of water. Aquifers may serve as a source of drinking water.

Bacterial Contamination

Microscopic one-celled organisms found everywhere. Some bacteria have the potential to be a public health threat. In Massachusetts there are defined limits for a specific bacteria, fecal coliform, in water bodies.


A topographic designation based on drainage patterns. The water flowing within a basin (or watershed) eventually flows to one common point. The state has been divided into 27 major basins under the Watershed Initiative.

Best Management
Practices (BMPs)

Techniques which may be nonstructural, structural or managerial capable of effectively and economically reducing nonpoint sources of pollution.

Biomonitoring Examining the biological (living) communities in a given body of water (or other habitat) to determine the complexity, diversity, and species composition in the water body. This information helps assess the overall health of the habitat.
Board of Health (BOH) In Massachusetts it is the local board responsible for health issues in the community including septic systems.
Buffer An area of no or limited activity along a water way functioning as a filter of pollutants contained in runoff, a wildlife corridor and several other benefits.
Chapter 61, 61A or 61B A manner by which lands can be classified as Forest Lands in a process overseen by the MA Department of Environmental Management. Lands certified as Forest Lands are taxed, at a special rate, according to provisions established in Chapter 61. Chapter 61A is the section of Chapter 61 applicable to agricultural and horticultural lands and 61B is the section dealing with recreational lands eligible for special tax assessments.
Class B Water A waterway classified by the state as being capable of meeting the following water quality level, "suitable habitat for fish, other aquatic life and wildlife, and primary and secondary contact recreation. Can be used, when so designated, as drinking water with proper treatment and for agriculture and industry and good and consistent aesthetic value."
Clean Water Act (CWA) A federal law establishing comprehensive national policies for water quality management. The essence of the CWA is to have all US waters "fishable and swim able".
Preservation Act
In 2000, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) was
passed in Massachusetts providing the opportunity for communities to choose to establish a local fund to be used for open space protection, historic preservation and the creation of low and moderate income housing. To establish a fund, communities must pass by referendum a property tax of up to 3% dedicated to their Community Preservation Fund.
Commission (ConComm)
A volunteer board within A Massachusetts community responsible for administering the Wetland Protection Act and the River Protection Act.
Cultural Eutrophication When the natural process of eutrophication, growth and decay in an aquatic ecosystem, is accelerated by an increase of nutrients derived from societal sources such as lawns, roads, wastewater, and stormwater runoff.
Feasibility (D/F)
A method used to assess the ecological health of lakes or ponds and specify management and corrective actions.
Division of Conservation
Services Self-Help funds
The Division of Conservations Services is within the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. The Self Help Funding program is charged with helping communities acquire or protect, through conservation restrictions, land for the protection of wildlife, habitat, and unique cultural, historic or natural resources and for passive recreation. Lands may include forests, water resources, and farmlands. Land purchased with the help of these funds must be open to the public.
Effluent Used water as it leaves a treatment system. Examples are discharges from sewage treatment facilities or water used in an industrial cooling system.
Eutrophic Pond A pond receiving an excess of nutrients, especially phosphorus, from the surrounding watershed will experience a greatly accelerated rate of plant growth. Plant growth and decomposition is a natural process but when the nutrients cause excessive growth the natural system is overwhelmed. The result is often thick plant and algae growth in a pond, loss of biodiversity, stressful conditions for aquatic life and the potential for complete collapse of the natural ecosystem.
Geographical Information
System (GIS)
A relatively new and useful computerized system able to create data layers amenable to transfer onto maps and other useful products for assessing a river basin. Data layer examples include all open space, watershed boundaries, and land use.
Impervious Surface A surface, which does not allow water to penetrate such as pavement.
Interbasin Transfer A transfer of drinking water from one basin into another. These transfers are regulated by the state.
Invasive Plants/
Invasive Species
These are plants or animals able to quickly and easily populate an area or habitat. They are usually very adaptable and can take advantage of and tolerate disturbed or unstable conditions. The end result is typically a loss in natural diversity in the area and diminished value as habitat for birds, animals and native species.
MA Executive Order 418 Enacted January 2000, EO 418 is comprised of two components: Community Development Planning and Housing Certification. Together these two initiatives establish a comprehensive new approach to identifying suitable locations for new housing opportunities in Massachusetts, providing communities with needed resources and incentives for housing production, while considering the existing infrastructure and regional economy and preserving the unique character and valuable open spaces of its towns and cities.
National Pollution
Discharge Elimination
System (NPDES)
A federal program under the Clean Water Act created to monitor point source discharges such as sewage treatment plant effluent and industrial discharges.
Nitrate A form of nitrogen readily usable by vegetation. Excessive amounts of nitrate can disrupt ecological balances in a natural system. High levels of nitrate in drinking water pose a health threat especially for children (blue baby syndrome).
Non-native Plants Plants from another region or continent introduced to an area. Non native plants usually do not have the same checks and balances in place, as is the case with native species, and the result is often rampant invasion by the non natives. Areas dominated by these plants may not be useful to native species for food, shelter or habitat and usually displace the native plant community.
Nonpoint Source
Pollution (NPS)
Pollution originating from multiple and not easily identifiable sources. Storm water is a significant contributor of nonpoint pollutants since it washes pollutants from impervious surfaces such as roadways.
"Nuisance" Species A plant or animal prone to causing problems in ecosystem function or to the health, enjoyment, or aesthetic value of an ecosystem.
On-site Systems An individual system for treating wastewater, commonly called a septic system.
Phase II Stormwater
In 1998 EPA published this followup to its 1990 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDDES) rules which seek to “preserve, protect and improve the Nation’s water resources from polluted storm water runoff”. Phase II expanded the existing Phase I program by instituting controls – through the use of NPDDES permits -- on unregulated sources of storm water discharges that have the greatest likelihood of causing environmental degradation, namely additional owners and operators of medium and large municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) in urbanized areas and construction sites. Phase III will take effect in the near future will effect all municipalities irregardless of population or size.
Phosphorus A nutrient often serving as the limit to growth in freshwater systems. Excessive amount of phosphorus in a water body can lead to a condition of unchecked plant growth known as eutrophication.
Right of First Refusal To encourage landowners to keep their land as open space – that is, not developed into residential, commercial or industrial uses – the MA Commonwealth passed Chapter 61 (Forestry), Chapter 61A (Agriculture & Horticulture) and Chapter 61B (Recreation) of the Massachusetts General Laws. These three classifications of the Chapter 61 program are designed to give favorable tax treatment to landowners who will keep their land undeveloped and managed according to certain criteria. A requirement of enrolling in Chapter 61, Chapter 61A or 61B programs (similar in effect to NH’s “Current Use” Program) is that the municipality is given the “right of first refusal” to purchase the property within 120 days of presentation of a Purchase and Sale agreement (and at the P&S price) if the land use of the property is to change from “undeveloped” to “developed”. The municipality has the ability to transfer its RFR to a non-profit conservation organization as well.
River Protection Act (RPA) A newly enacted law creating a 200-foot river resource area around most of the perennial rivers and streams in Massachusetts to better protect the quality of our river resources. The RPA expands the scope of the Wetland Protection Act.
Safe Drinking Water
Act (SDWA)
A federal law passed in 1974 creating a federal program to monitor and increase the safety of drinking water. Amended in 1986 to establish new enforcement responsibilities for EPA and changes in nation-wide safeguards.
Scenic River
Administered by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), the NH Rivers Management and Protection Program (RSA 483 1988), was created to recognize and designate rivers to be protected for their outstanding natural and cultural resources. Through stated protection measures, the scenic beauty — significant views to and from the river -- and recreational potential of such rivers shall be restored and maintained, riparian interests shall be respected, instream flows shall be enhanced, and the enjoyment of outstanding river characteristics shall not be diminished.
Sanctuary Act
A 1975 amendment to MGL Chapter 132A Sec 16, stating that given this watershed’s very high quality waters “no new discharge of treated or untreated sewage or other wastewater will be permitted to be discharged…nor shall anyone install or construct any new outfall, drainage pipe [etc.] … to the Squannacook and Nissitissit Rivers Sanctuary” which includes these river’s tributaries.
Squannassit Regional
Reserve Initiative
The Squannassit Initiative is a coalition of individuals, municipalities, and non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving the existing natural ecology and cultural heritage in the northern part of the Massachusetts portion of the Nashua basin, including land in the towns of Groton, Dunstable, Ayer Lunenburg, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, and Ashby. Initiative seeks to preserve the integrity of the Squannassit ecosystem by protecting critical links, which allow wildlife to move among major protected blocks of land and by expanding the protected lands to include other ecologically and culturally important areas. It seeks to protect the cultural heritage by documenting its history and protecting historic lands and landscapes. In Spring 2002 the Initiative submitted to MA EOEA nominations for the Squannassit and Petapawag regions as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. In December 2002 these two ACECs were officially designated by the state. The Nashua River Watershed Association provides coordination for the Initiative.
State Revolving
Fund (SRF)
A fund from which a community can apply for zero interest loans to assess or improve wastewater problems in the community. Scope of the SRF has recently been expanded.
Title 5 The Massachusetts regulation overseeing on-site wastewater treatment systems. Improperly or poorly functioning on-site systems (Septic Systems) have the potential to adversely impact nearby waterways.
Total Maximum
Daily Load (TMDL)
The Federal Clean Water Act requires each state to identify waters for which effluent limitations are not stringent enough to meet water quality standards. The TMDL established the allowable pollutant loading from all contributing sources to achieve water quality standards. TMDLs may also be applied to waters threatened by excessive pollutant loading (i.e.non-point sources).
Tributary A stream or river flowing into a larger, mainstream river.
Wastewater Water, which is used for some purpose, then discarded or "wasted". Usually refers to the water used in households, business and industry and containing wastes.
Water Management
Act (WMA)
(MGL Chapter 21 G) The intent of the WMA is to manage water uses, maintain safe yields, and plan for future water needs and this is done through the issuance of permits to withdraw set volumes of water from ground and surface supplies. The MA Dept. of Environmental Management administer the WMA based on decisions made by the Water Resources Commission.
Watershed An area of land contributing runoff and subsurface flow to one common point. Large watershed may be divided into smaller sub-watersheds.
Wetland Area of land with saturated or nearly saturated soils most of the year and serves as an interface between land-based and water-based environments.
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