Audit faults lag in DEP reporting on water quality

  • State Auditor Suzanne Bump  FILE PHOTO

State House News Service
Published: 6/15/2020 1:34:02 PM

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection failed to provide the public and the federal government with information about water quality in a timely manner and fell short in its oversight of toxic substances, Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office found in a review.

State environmental regulators have missed deadlines to submit reports about Massachusetts waterways to federal agencies, Bump’s office said, and they also have not made water quality test results available online since 2015.

As a result, the auditor wrote, both the Environmental Protection Agency and residents do not have the information they need to determine “whether Massachusetts watersheds are impaired or are safe for their designated uses.”

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the DEP is required to provide the EPA with reports on state waterways every two years. The state agency did not finalize a report due in April 2016 until December 2019, and it still has not completed the version due in 2018, according to the audit.

In a response included in the audit, the DEP described the finding as “inaccurate as written.” The agency submits and publishes data, it said, but experiences “reporting delays” because of efforts to ensure the information is validated.

The length of time taken for the 2016 report, the DEP said, “was important to providing the public with scientifically sound and accurate information on the status of the commonwealth’s water’s.”

Bump’s office also determined that, in several instances, the DEP did not sufficiently enforce reporting requirements on the use of toxic materials covered by law. The department replied that, while it fulfilled the large majority of its responsibility, it would centralize policies and procedures and implement a staff review following recommendations.

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