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EPA Issues Permit for New Sewage Outfall Pipe in Mass. Bay

Release Date: 07/10/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a settlement that sets the stage for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to open its 9.5-mile outfall tunnel for discharging treated sewer water into Massachusetts Bay. Activating the outfall tunnel is one of the final pieces of a 15-year effort by EPA, the MWRA and other groups to bring about the restoration of Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay.

As a result of the legal settlement, EPA this week issued a final modified discharge permit for the Deer Island Treatment Plant, which treats sewer water from Boston and 42 other Boston area communities. The permit modifications were issued as a result of a settlement between EPA, the MWRA and several other parties. The agreement settles a permit appeal filed by MWRA and other parties and describes how the MWRA will address extensive problems in regional sewer lines that cause sewage to overflow into the streets and rivers.

Parties to the settlement include EPA, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MWRA, the MWRA Advisory Board, the Charles River Watershed Association, Fore River Watershed Association and several Cape Cod-based groups. "After many years of working to create the toughest discharge permit possible for Deer Island, we have come to a settlement that meets the requirements of EPA, the MWRA and the many environmental groups with a stake in this outfall tunnel," said Mindy S. Lubber, Regional Administrator for EPA's New England office. "The massive cleanup of Boston Harbor has been enormously successful, in large part due to the new treatment plant on Deer Island. The permit issued this week continues this effort by setting stringent requirements on discharges into Massachusetts Bay. The opening of the tunnel will also bring significant improvements to the harbor, where wastewater is now being discharged into shallow areas, making the water cloudier and more prone to unpleasant algae blooms."

"This settlement embodies great partnership efforts for the environment," said Lauren Liss, DEP commissioner. "Environmental agencies and groups have worked many years with this goal in mind, and all involved should be proud of this agreement. The process itself has not only improved the final agreement, but also forged a partnership that will help us as we continue the cleanup of Boston Harbor to ensure its vitality in the years ahead."

"The outfall permit is unique in the opportunity it provides the environmental community to better understand the MWRA sewerage system,"said Robert Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association. "For example, groundwater losses through leaks into the sewer pipes will be better defined. With this knowledge we should be able to begin to resolve some of the de-watering effects of the sewerage system by working with MWRA communities to repair pipes."

The discharge permit is one of the toughest and most aggressive discharge permits ever written for a secondary sewage treatment plant in this country. The permit sets stringent limits on pollutants to be discharged into the Massachusetts Bay through the outfall tunnel. The wastewater will be dispersed through 55 discharge points along the last 1.2 miles of the tunnel.

As part of the agreement, the MWRA promised to put together the first plan of its kind in the nation for reducing the amount of fresh water entering sewer lines, causing overloads to the system. Infiltration occurs when too much rainfall or melted snow enters through the ground into leaky sewer pipes. Inflow occurs when excess water runs through roof drains connected to sewers and broken or badly connected sewer service lines.

As much as 50 to 60 percent of the water entering the MWRA sewer systems is from infiltration and inflow. The excess water in the system can cause sewer pipes to overflow into basements or out of manholes and onto city streets, playgrounds and into streams.

Under the agreement, the MWRA will develop a plan by the end of June 2001 to help cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts control their inflow and infiltration. Also as part of the agreement, EPA and DEP will take responsibility for making sure all cities and towns in the MWRA sewer system implement measures to reduce the impacts of wet weather on sewer systems.

The EPA has asked communities across the country to develop such plans for addressing infiltration and inflow, but MWRA's agreement will put eastern Massachusetts ahead of the rest of the country in addressing the problem.

The new Deer Island facility is already in operation. Opening the tunnel is one of the final pieces of the project. The discharge permit, which includes extensive water conservation and pollution prevention requirements, reflects unprecedented extensive public comment.

The discharge permit includes a detailed plan for monitoring discharges and a requirement that the MWRA take certain actions if unexpected water quality problems arise. This is the first time the EPA has required such a contingency plan in issuing a discharge permit. The contingency plan establishes "caution" and "warning" levels for a range of environmental indicators. If the effluent reaches warning levels, prompt action is required unless there is convincing evidence that the discharge is not contributing to an environmental problem.

Infiltration and inflow are significant causes of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), which can spill raw sewage into basements or out of manholes and onto city streets, playgrounds and into streams, before it can reach a treatment facility.