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NPDES Permits in New England

Discharge Permit for MWRA Outfall- Protection of Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, May 1999

Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays are key environmental resources, and the discharge permit for the MWRA outfall takes an aggressive approach to their protection. The permit represents a three-part strategy: first, the most comprehensive requirements ever imposed in this type of permit; second, extensive monitoring to ensure that those requirements are met; and third, prompt response to problems if they occur.

Stringent Requirements

  • The discharge must not cause or contribute to exceedances of water quality standards for 158 pollutants.
  • The discharge must meet "secondary treatment" standards set by EPA.
  • The discharge must not interfere with fish or other aquatic life.
  • The discharge must not contribute to eutrophication (e.g. algae growth or a change in species due to excessive nutrients).
  • MWRA must implement the most stringent pollution prevention measures, best management practices, and water conservation requirements ever imposed in this type of permit.

Extensive Monitoring

  • The discharge will be monitored three times daily for bacteria and chlorine; once per day for solids concentration, oxygen-demanding material, and pH; and once per month for numerous other potential pollutants.
  • The permit includes an unprecedented ambient monitoring program to detect any impact on Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays--43 monitoring stations, collecting data on a wide range of environmental indicators.
  • Data will be reviewed by a panel of independent scientists reporting to EPA and DEP-all monitoring results will be made available to the public, and key data will be available on the Internet.

Prompt Response

  • Extensive environmental reviews have predicted that the discharge of effluent which has received secondary treatment will not have adverse impacts on Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. However, to ensure prompt response to any unexpected problems, the permit requires implementation of a "contingency plan," the first such plan required by an EPA permit in New England.
  • The contingency plan establishes "caution" and "warning" levels for 25 environmental indicators.
  • The permit requires prompt action if a warning level is reached--unless it is demonstrated that the discharge is not contributing to an environmental problem.
  • Both regulatory agencies and citizens have the right to sue to enforce permit conditions.

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