Department of Environmental Protection Leaving Public with Murky Picture of Water Quality, Audit Shows

Boston, MA – An audit released today by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump shows the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is not providing important information to the federal government and the public about the safety and usability of Massachusetts watersheds in a timely manner. The audit examined the period of July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019.

The audit found DEP has not released reports required by the federal Clean Water Act. Under this law, each state must provide the Environmental Protection Agency with an Integrated List of Waters Report every two years that contains details on its water quality, including information on bodies of water that are impaired by pollutants.

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Bump’s audit found DEP did not finalize its 2016 edition of this report, which was due in April 2016, until December 2019 and has still not filed its 2018 edition. Additionally, the audit shows DEP has not made water quality testing data it has gathered available to the public since 2015. The audit notes that without these two sources of information, the public does not know whether watersheds in the state are safe for their designated uses. To address these issues, the audit recommends DEP reevaluate its data collection and processing methods, using labs not run by the state to test samples, and consider using external sources that may assist with data collection and reporting.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with fulfilling the Massachusetts Constitution’s guarantee of clean air and water for its residents. Unfortunately, the failure to provide important information has left the public with a murky picture of water quality in the state,” Bump said of the audit. “While the agency has taken some steps to address these issues, I urge them to continue to implement all of our audit recommendations.”

Bump also calls on the agency to improve oversight of facilities that manufacture, process, and use toxic substances in their operations, after the audit found DEP did not always ensure these users filed required toxic use reports and reduction plan summaries.

DEP, a subdivision of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, is responsible for protecting and enhancing the Commonwealth’s natural resources, including air, water, and land, as well as for advancing sustainable economic development. DEP’s headquarters is in Boston, and it has four regional offices in Springfield, Worcester, Wilmington, and Lakeville, as well as a state laboratory in Lawrence. At the end of the audit period, DEP had approximately 700 full-time employees and in fiscal year 2019 received $57,539,138 in state appropriations.

The full report is available here.