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Release Date: 06/25/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the owners of a sewage treatment plant that serves Lawrence and surrounding communities to develop a plan for reducing the amount of sewage flowing into the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers.

In an administrative ordered issued this week, EPA ordered the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District to develop a plan by the year 2002 for controlling overflows from combined sewers, which discharge millions of gallons of untreated storm water and sewage into local waterways each year.

The overflows occur when the district's wastewater collection system - which carries both sewage and storm water - exceeds its capacity, causing untreated sewage and storm water to be discharged through the CSO outfall pipes. The discharges occur after rainstorms and other wet weather.

The federal Clean Water Act forbids CSOs that cause rivers and other water bodies to violate water quality standards.

The EPA action stems from water quality data collected by the state from 1996 to 1998 that showed discharges from the district's sewer system had caused unacceptable levels of contamination in local waterways.

"Many communities in New England are burdened with aging sewer systems that end up contaminating our lakes and rivers," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "The Merrimack is a great resource, providing drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people and marvelous recreation opportunities. This action will contribute substantially to our progress in improving the water quality of the river."

The Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, which serves Methuen, Andover, North Andover and North Salem, NH, owns and operates a 52-million-gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant in North Andover, as well as a central sewer line that receives water from five member communities. This line has five CSOs that discharge into the Merrimack. Most of the sewer pipes in Lawrence and a portion of those in Methuen are combined sewers.

The CSOs have created levels of bacteria in both the Merrimack and Spicket rivers that are in violation of the district's permit from the state to discharge into these rivers.

In addition to ordering the district to come up with a long-term plan for controlling CSOs, EPA's administrative order requires the district to file interim reports with EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to ensure the project stays on track.