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Draft Stormwater Permit Provides Protections for Worcester’s Environment

Release Date: 06/20/2008
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. - June 20, 2008) – A draft stormwater permit, proposed today by EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will provide improved environmental protection in Worcester, Mass. The proposed permit outlines a new 5-year plan for the City of Worcester to control the discharge of stormwater pollution to the streams, ponds and lakes of the City.

The proposed permit, developed jointly by EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), would update the existing permit which was issued in 1998. The new permit provides better protection to area water bodies from elevated bacteria and nutrient levels, and seeks to achieve pollution reductions by utilizing a series of required “best management practices” – rather than setting end-of-pipe pollution limits, as would be done in a permit for a waste water treatment facility or factory.

“Preventing and controlling water pollution represents a major challenge for all cities and towns committed to clean water,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “EPA has worked closely with our partners in the Commonwealth, as well as with Worcester officials, to design a stormwater permit that will help provide important protections to the environment, without breaking the bank.”

“Stormwater is the biggest issue affecting water quality in the Commonwealth today. MassDEP is eager to work with the EPA and the City of Worcester to assist the City in addressing this issue,” said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt. “Given the importance of reducing stormwater pollution, MassDEP is working on a comprehensive initiative to reduce stormwater pollutants statewide. Working together, these efforts can take advantage of federal, state and local expertise to find solutions to the challenge of stormwater pollution in the most cost-effective manner.”

The federal Clean Water Act requires municipalities such as Worcester to obtain a permit to discharge storm water from their storm water system of pipes and catch basins. The proposal – a draft “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System” (NPDES) storm water discharge permit – would apply to Worcester’s municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4), which includes 330 outfalls discharging to streams and lakes. MS4s can contribute pollutants to receiving waters by transporting storm water runoff, commingled at times with sewage or other illegal discharges.

The draft permit follows two years of discussions among the City, MassDEP and EPA. The two environmental agencies have developed an approach to ensure that discharges from the City’s MS4 do not cause or contribute to violation of water quality standards, requiring the City to reduce pollutants in discharges from its MS4 to the maximum extent practicable.

Within the 347 miles of pipe in this separate storm water collection system, there are known and unknown illegal sewage connections contaminating storm water and Worcester’s water bodies. This draft MS4 permit proposes conditions while authorizing the discharge of this storm water drainage. EPA anticipates that pollution sources, including bacterial contamination, can be reduced with best management practices (BMPs) rather than end-of-pipe treatment. The permit does not include any requirements for installation of any new “end-of-pipe” treatment systems.

While considering the renewal of the original 1998 permit, MassDEP determined that many of Worcester’s water bodies continue to fail to meet basic water quality standards. Problems include bacterial contamination, which can make water unsafe for human contact; phosphorus pollution, which can lead to discoloration, noxious weeds, algae scum, and oxygen levels low enough to suffocate fish; and excessive levels of toxic metals.

Storm water pollution is one of the leading causes of Worcester’s water bodies failing to meet water quality standards. Area waters that will be better protected due to the new permit include the tributaries at the headwaters of the Blackstone River such as Beaver Brook, Tatnuck Brook, and Mill Brook, as well as the popular Lake Quisigamond, Indian Lake and Salisbury Pond.

Today’s action is one of several underway on many fronts to help clean up Worcester’s water. Worcester and surrounding communities also are constructing upgrades at the Upper Blackstone treatment facility which treats wastewater from Worcester and surrounding communities. This facility is the largest dry-weather source of phosphorus pollution and heavy metals such as cadmium and copper.

Worcester, like many older cities, also has overflows of mixed sewage and storm water that contribute to the degradation of water quality. The City is working to address its single remaining combined sewer overflow (CSO). Worcester is also taking steps to prevent overflows of raw sewage caused by defects in the sewers due to blockages resulting from debris and grease, and by illegal connections of sump pumps and roof leaders into the sewers.

Preventing and controlling water pollution represents a major challenge for all cities and towns committed to clean water. The City of Worcester currently spends approximately $2 million annually in operating costs on programs associated with storm water management – mostly on street sweeping, catch basin maintenance, and other system maintenance.

EPA estimates the additional annual cost of the complying with the draft storm water permit to be $1.3 million – with the majority of the cost funding efforts to identify illicit sanitary connections to the storm drain system. If the cost burden of complying with the new permit were to be spread evenly among only Worcester households, EPA conservatively estimates that the new permit would result in a $1.50/month cost per household.

More information:

- Draft permit available at: (

- A public hearing has been scheduled for 10:00AM on July 30 at the Worcester Public Library. EPA and MassDEP will accept public comments on the proposed permit until August 4, 2008.

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