By Beth Daley
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Ian Bowles today required far more information and study from Framingham before they can go forward with a plan to reactivate old drinking water wells - and questioned the overall wisdom of the project.
Lake Cochituate in Natick, which some say could be adversely impacted by stimulus money plans. (Michele Mcdonald for The Boston Globe)
The controversial project - being rushed to be eligible for more than $5 million in federal stimulus funding - has been the subject of a stream of criticism in recent months from the federal Department of the Interior to local environmental groups. The $40 million plan included building a water treatment plant that was one of the first in line in the state for a low-interest loan.
Today, Bowles said the project needs far more review and information and also raised questions about the overall wisdom of using scarce state and federal funds to help a community develop a drinking water supply when there is one already available for them to use and it would not provide any additional water quality or public health benefits.
Here is the back story: Framingham has long wanted to reactivate old drinking water wells and build a water treatment plant to reduce its reliance on more expensive water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Doing so, community officials say, would save the town at least $1 million a year and allow it to upgrade its aging water and sewer infrastructure to keep pollution from streaming into waterways.
In order to receive more than $5 million in economic stimulus money, the town asked state environmental chief Ian Bowles in August to use a draft environmental review of the project as the final one. Bowles refused, lowered the amount of water the town could take from nearby waterways, and instructed Framingham to conduct a list of adjunct studies. He also instructed state agencies to work closely with Framingham to get it done quickly so if the project was ultimately approved, it could take advantage of stimulus money.
But the $40 million project has been a lightning rod for controversy. Recently, the U.S. EPA; Department of the Interior representing the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife; the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Water Resources Commission have all commented that the town’s final environmental review is incomplete at best and has not proven it won’t be harmful to nearby aquatic life and water quality.
Yesterday, Bowles agreed and took it a step further: He instructed the state Department of Environmental Protection to review its criteria to ensure low interest loans are prioritized for water quality and public health goals.