NPDES Permits in New England
Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP) Public Workshop
Massachusetts Bays and the Outfall: A Look Back and A Look Forward
Tuesday, October 23, 2001, 6:00 to 8:30 PM
MA Department of Environmental Protection,
1 Winter St., Boston, MA 02108
Tuesday, October 30, 2001, 7:00 to 9:30 PM
Barnstable High School,
744 West Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601
BOSTON WORKSHOP: Mr. Glenn Haas, MA Department of Environmental Protection
HYANNIS WORKSHOP: Mr. Roger Janson, US Environmental Protection Agency
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the MA Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) would like to welcome everyone here this evening to the Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel public workshop. We are here tonight to hear and discuss results of monitoring in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay one year after the Massachusetts Water Resources Authoritys Deer Island outfall began operating in September 2000. It is gratifying to see that after twenty years of planning we are at a point where we can begin to look back. After only one year of operation, we are confident that the Monitoring Program and Contingency Plan in place will help us successfully look forward to an improved marine environment as a result of improved wastewater management.
EPA and MADEP regulate the discharge of treated wastewater from the MWRAs Deer Island Treatment Plant, through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The MWRA discharge permit has extensive requirements for treatment and discharge, unprecedented amounts of sampling, reporting, and oversight, and has often been called the toughest and most stringent discharge permit in the United States. It is tough in order to address public concerns and to assure that the marine environment and public health are protected. EPA and MADEP mandated that MWRAs Monitoring Program and Contingency Plan be attached to their discharge permit because of the importance of protecting the marine ecosystem.
The purpose of the Monitoring Program is to test for compliance with the limits of the NPDES permit, to look for changes in the environment, and to determine whether predictions made during the planning of the outfall are within expected ranges. The Monitoring Program was developed about 10 years ago so that baseline information could be collected before the outfall was relocated from Boston Harbor to Massachusetts Bay. Now that the outfall has gone on-line, the Monitoring Program is designed to look for potential changes in that baseline that are important to the public and to the living resources in Massachusetts and Cape Cod bays. For example, contaminants in fish or the amount of algae in the water are measured and reported.
In addition, the Monitoring Program is designed to determine whether changes in the environment or thresholds in the Contingency Plan are exceeded. The Contingency Plan was originally recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that the discharge does not harm endangered species, such as the North Atlantic Right whale. The Contingency Plan is a process to evaluate whether additional sampling, and/or corrective actions are necessary when changes in the environment based on the Monitoring Program suggest possible impacts from the MWRA outfall effluent. The NPDES Permit and the Contingency Plan require the public be notified if these changes do occur. Environmental changes may or may not be due to the MWRA outfall and must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It is important to note that the Contingency Plan is an evolving document that can be revised to reflect the best science available. Overall, we believe that the Contingency Plan process is working.
The design of a monitoring program, interpretation of results of the monitoring, and determination of appropriate thresholds for the Contingency Plan are complex and independent expert help was needed. In 1998, during the development of the current NPDES permit, EPA and MADEP appointed the Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP) to advise the agencies on monitoring results. Members are independent experts from the local scientific community and are unpaid volunteers with diverse marine science and public health backgrounds. OMSAP provides credible advice on science, such as reviewing Contingency Plan revisions and permit exceedances.
They thanked, on behalf of EPA and MADEP, the OMSAP for their dedication to a balanced and independent review of the monitoring. They also thanked MWRA for the efforts they have made to provide information to OMSAP and the public. The charter for OMSAP requires that OMSAP convene a public forum once a year to present findings to the public on the Outfall Monitoring Program, to explain their significance, and to hear and respond to concerns from the public. Hopefully the presentations tonight meet these goals and we look forward to hearing from the public.
WHAT DOES OMSAP DO?
Dr. Andy Solow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution & OMSAP Chair
The Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP) was established in 1998 to advise EPA and the MADEP to provide scientific advice on issues related to the outfall. The current members of OMSAP are Dr. Bob Beardsley (WHOI), Dr. Norb Jaworski, Dr. Bob Kenney (URI), Dr. Scott Nixon (URI), Dr. Judy Pederson (MIT), Dr. Mike Shiaris (UMB), Dr. Jim Shine (HSPH), and Dr. Juanita Urban-Rich (UMB). Cathy Coniaris (MADEP) is the staffperson.
We are all independent scientists and are not paid by MWRA, EPA, or MADEP. There are two standing subcommittees, the Public Interest Advisory Committee, chaired by Patty Foley, that advises OMSAP on public concerns about the outfall, and the Inter-Agency Advisory Committee, chaired by Sal Testaverde that advises OMSAP on regulatory issues. OMSAP can also convene special subcommittees, that may include scientists from outside the panel to take up particular issues. For example, Dr. Bob Beardsley is currently the chair of a group looking at the evaluation of the Bays Eutrophication Model that is used to understand and predict the effects of the outfall on nutrients, productivity and other parameters in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays.
OMSAP meets quarterly and the meetings are open to the public. At the meetings, typically we are briefed by MWRA and its subcontractors on recent monitoring results. At our last meeting, we heard from Stormy Mayo about some results from an independent sampling program in Cape Cod Bay that was conducted by the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, and it was reassuring to hear that the results from this independent group, while preliminary, show that there appears to have been no impact in Cape Cod Bay from the operation of the outfall. From time to time, we are asked by MWRA to review and approve proposed changes in the Contingency Plan and Monitoring Program. Currently we are carefully thinking about the Alexandrium red tide monitoring, and whether this threshold in the Contingency Plan should be revised.
In 1990, scientists identified four general questions that should be addressed by the monitoring: Is it safe to eat the fish and shellfish? Is it safe to swim? Are the aesthetics of Mass and Cape Cod Bays and Boston Harbor maintained? Are the resources protected? This workshop is an opportunity to hear what can be said about the answers to these questions, and it is also an opportunity for anyone in the audience to ask questions of the OMSAP and the representatives of MWRA.
WHY SHOULD THE PUBLIC BE INVOLVED?
Ms. Patty Foley, Executive Director, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay & Public Interest Advisory Committee Chair
Patty Foley acknowledged the fine work of Dr. Andy Solow, OMSAP Chair, and the other OMSAP members, Dr. Andrea Rex and her colleagues from the MWRA, and the staff at the DEP and the EPA. It is a pleasure for her to work with all of them on this very important policy issue. She also thanked the audience for attending the workshop to discuss the results of the first years monitoring of the Massachusetts Bay Outfall.
P. Foley then explained why she thinks that the work they do is so very important, and why it is so important that the public be involved. She learned to swim on the beaches of South Boston as a youngster, at the L Street Beach. Today, she lives on a boat in Boston Harbor, and loves to fish, swim, and sail from Cape Cod to Cape Ann. Clean water and clean beaches are a core family value here in the Bay State, one which we are prepared to fight to achieve and defend.
The ratepayers and taxpayers of our region have invested nearly $4 billion in the cleaner waters of Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay. By being here tonight, members of the audience are in a very real sense, protecting their investment. That investment has already begun to pay dividends in increased recreational and economic opportunity and enhanced public access on the shore, on the water, and in the Harbor Islands. And none of this would have been possible without public participation and support.
As many may remember, there were a number of proposed solutions to the pollution problems caused by the old Deer Island and Nut Island Sewage treatment plants. Judge David Mazzone appointed a special master, Charlie Haar, to sort them out and come up with a solution, a work plan, a timeline and a schedule for the completion of the project.
Consensus is always difficult to achieve, but at that time it was the consensus of scientific opinion that the Massachusetts Bay Outfall was a critical part of any solution to our pollution problems. Still, there were legitimate concerns on Cape Cod but not just on Cape Cod, about the short and long term effects of pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of effluent into the Bay. What would the impact of the outfall be on shellfish and lobsters, on finfish, on plankton and on marine mammals? What would happen to water quality? What about algal blooms? What were the effects going to be on the health of both Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bay?
To answer these questions we needed to establish baselines and to keep track of any changes in the ecosystem. We needed to develop a mechanism to report any problems to regulators and decision makers, and we needed to share the facts with the public.
After spirited discussion, stakeholders came together with an elegant solution. As part of the permit, we created one of the most comprehensive monitoring programs in history, created by OMSAP, a truly independent panel of experts to assess the science, and created PIAC to represent the public in the process. She is proud to be a part of this process and believes that it is working well. She is confident that the presentations will increase the audiences confidence as well. She urged everyone to please stay involved and thanked audience for attending. She hopes to see everyone on the Harbor, the Bay, or at the beach.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT BOSTON HARBOR?
Dr. Andrea Rex, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
A. Rex is the director of environmental quality at MWRA and her job is to oversee the monitoring that MWRA conducts in Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bays. The Environmental Quality Department is also responsible for administering MWRAs complicated discharge permit. She will include a discussion of Boston Harbor in her talk because the public needs to know that the investment of MWRA and the ratepayers of the Greater Boston area is working. The improvements in the Harbor that occurred before the outfall went on-line are indicative of the effects of the improved treatment as well as effects of MWRAs active industrial regulation and pre-treatment program. It is also relevant to help understand what the impact on Mass Bay as a whole will be. Many of the fears of the outfall were predicated on a fear that we would be exporting the terrible problems of Boston Harbor 15 years ago into Mass Bay. Presenting the improvements in the Harbor will underscore the point that the outfall is not just transferring the former harbor of shame offshore.
Monitoring in the Harbor was designed to answer the public concerns that are relevant to both Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bays: Are marine resources and public health protected? She showed a map of Boston Harbor and the locations of the old harbor outfalls at Nut Island and Deer Island. The newly commissioned ocean outfall is 9.5 miles from Deer Island.
She then gave a brief overview of how improved treatment at the new plant (and pretreatment) have been changing what MWRA has been discharging over the years. She showed a graph of the decreasing bacteria levels in the Deer Island effluent since 1988. In 1988, there were high bacteria counts in samples almost 140 out of 360 days in the year, with very high counts for almost 100 of those days. With better disinfection, those numbers very quickly dropped, so that after the 1990s there were fewer than 10 days/year with high bacteria counts, and almost no very high samples.
The next graph showed the amount of solids discharged to the Harbor in average tons per day annually since 1988. Solids are important because they affect water clarity, oxygen, and toxic pollutants are generally attached to solids. In 1988, MWRA was discharging on the order of 160 tons per day of solids to the Harbor. The first major decrease came in 1992, after sludge discharges ended. Then, secondary treatment gradually came on-line at Deer Island. In July, 1998, Nut Island flow, that was only receiving primary treatment, was transferred to Deer Island for secondary treatment. By 2000, MWRA was averaging about 30 tons/day to the Harbor, only 20% of what had been previously discharged. Of course in 2001, that number will be zero. This is very important because toxic contaminants tend to attach to solids.
Even before the solids discharges were decreasing substantially, MWRAs toxic reduction and control program was making major inroads into discharges of toxic materials through pollution prevention. MWRA levied heavy fines on industries that were violating their permit to discharge into our sewer system. That had a dramatic impact on metals discharges. In fact, most metals now come from households and eroding drinking water pipes (copper and zinc). The next graph showed the decrease in metals discharged since 1989. The results of other toxics follow a similar pattern. In 1989, metals discharges were more than 1,000 pounds per day. By 1991, those discharges had dropped to about 700 pounds per day, and thereafter the pattern parallels the pattern of solids discharges. By 2000, MWRA was discharging less than 300 lbs per day. Now, less than 10% of the metals inputs are from industry, however, managing household waste remains a challenge.
To examine whether marine ecological resources are being protected, one of the best places to look is in the sediments. Toxic pollutants and excess organic matter tend to accumulate in the sediments, and affect the benthos, or bottom community. Many animals low on the food web live here in direct contact with contaminants, and thus have potential when eaten to transmit contaminants to larger organisms. MWRA has an intensive sediment sampling program in Boston Harbor, monitoring the types and numbers of species that live here as well as toxic contaminants and degree of oxygenation of the sediments. MWRA also samples flounder and lobsters for disease and contaminant levels.
A. Rex showed a photograph of a section into the sediment near Long Island in 1990, the site of the Nut Island sludge discharges. It shows almost no oxygenated, or light-colored mud. This means that bacteria have used up all the oxygen in the sediment, and turned it anaerobic and black from sulfides (which are also toxic). There was almost nothing living in this photograph. It is likely that a large part of the problem is excess organic matter. She then showed the sediment profile at the same location in 1996. It showed a dramatic difference. The tube-dwelling shrimp-like animal Ampelisca has colonized. The aerated part of the sediment is about 5 centimeters deep, and other tiny creatures may also be present. Ampelisca is an early stage of succession. The most recent surveys indicate that another, more diverse, and natural community of worms, mollusks, and crustaceans is now moving in to replace some of the Ampelisca mats.
A. Rex then showed a map of the depth that oxygen penetrates into the sediment, called the Redox Potential Discontinuity or RPD for 1989-1990 while sludge was still being discharged, and treatment was only primary. Areas with a deeper the layer have more oxygen. Large parts of the northern harbor and Dorchester Bay had unhealthy sediment RPDs of less than 1 cm. She then showed a map of the same parameter for 1992-2000 (averaging one year after sludge discharges stopped until the ocean outfall went on-line). On average, the harbor sediments are much better aerated, with a great improvement in the north harbor.
Next was a graph showing a simple measure of biodiversity in Harbor sediments: the number of species present in a grab sample of mud. In 1991, there were about 15 species per grab throughout the Harbor on average. By 1998, that number had more than doubled, to more than 35, a substantial and significant difference.
Another important indicator organism that lives in close contact with sediments is the winter flounder. Flounder can absorb contaminants through their skin. A. Rex showed a slide of the drop in liver disease incidence in Boston Harbor flounder since 1984. In the 1980s, Boston Harbor became infamous because it had the highest levels of flounder liver disease (almost 80%) and liver cancer of any flounder population studied. By 1989, liver disease rates had been halved to the present level, and liver tumors had become very rare. This is likely due to a decrease in toxic discharges related to the toxic reduction and control program.
MWRA takes many other measures of the health of the ecosystem of the Harbor, mostly focusing on the effect of nutrients. Because most of those changes will relate to the effect of moving the discharge offshore, and the data are not all in and analyzed yet, it is still too early to report on those effects.
One of the important public health indicators that we study is bacterial contamination especially is it safe to swim. It is very interesting to examine this question in a historical context. She showed a contour plot of the average of fecal coliform bacteria (Enterococcus) data collected from 1987 up to the transfer of flow from the Nut Island treatment plant to Deer Island on July 8, 1998. The data are from MDC beach sampling and MWRA monitoring. The data are based on the mean, not the geometric mean, which will tend to emphasize the effects of high bacteria counts. Enterococcus is now the bacteria favored by EPA for monitoring marine waters for bathing safety. On average, the poorest water quality was in Fort Point Channel in the inner harbor, the Neponset River, the mouth of the Mystic River. The next most-impacted areas include the inner harbor, parts of the harbor affected by sludge and Deer Island, Nut Island, and along the shoreline. Historically, on average, most of the outer harbor and offshore areas of the north and south harbor generally met swimming standards, and a small part of the harbor in Hingham-Hull Bay met shellfishing standards.
A. Rex then showed a plot of the average bacteria data after flow was transferred from Nut Island to Deer Island, before the new outfall went on-line (from July of 1998 to August 2000). Reflected in the plot are the cumulative effects of the Boston Harbor project up to that point. Most of the Harbor now not only meets swimming standards, but shellfishing. The entire southern and central harbor has improved, compared to the earlier period, without degrading the area around Deer Island. Problems still remain in the rivers, inner harbor, and along the shore, presumably due to stormwater and CSOs but the magnitude and extent of the contamination is less. So the answer to the question is the harbor swimmable? is generally yes. However, problems still remain beach postings, while less frequent than a decade ago, still interfere with the use of this resource. Stormwater contamination is clearly a significant problem. CSOs have been eliminated along Constitution Beach, and will be eliminated along South Dorchester Bay. The plan to eliminate CSO and stormwater along South Boston beaches is being revisited, with storm sampling planned for this fall.
Even before the ocean outfall went on-line, the harbor had shown significant improvement in the quality of the environment, which should provide a couple of assurances. First, the investment in the Boston Harbor Project is paying off: many indicators are showing a significant improvement. She did not have time to cover all the examples, but bacteria, toxic contaminants, water clarity, and biodiversity are all measurably improved. Second, the outfall is not transporting the old problems of Boston Harbor offshore. Third, we have to remember that the Harbor and Bay are not separate systems, one is not being sacrificed for the sake of the other: The health of the harbor and the Bay are linked. Physically, through the movement of water, tidal flushing and storms. The USGS model of tidal mixing in the Harbor illustrates that the outer harbor waters, where the treatment plant discharges used to be, flush well out into the Bay. The Boston Harbor estuary also is linked to the Bay biologically, as many migratory animals move from open ocean, through the harbor. Shallow, warmer waters like the harbor are important nurseries for juvenile lobster, that then migrate out to the cooler waters of the Bay. She showed a photograph of smelt, photographed in the Fore River in the Southern Harbor, just one example of several fish species that need both river and the sea.
The Bay is full of precious resources, and home to endangered species. MWRA through its permit, contingency plan, and monitoring, is actively involved in ensuring that these resources remain healthy, as the new outfall is used.
HOW ARE WE MONITORING THE OUTFALL AND THE ECOSYSTEM?
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT MASSACHUSETTS BAYS?
Dr. Mike Mickelson, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
This presentation has two parts, first a brief overview of what we are measuring and then a summary of what we have observed. The Monitoring Program was designed by OMSAPs predecessor, the Outfall Monitoring Task Force, to address public concerns about the new outfall that on September 6, 2000 began discharging treated sewage effluent in Mass Bay, 9.5 miles offshore of Boston. The monitoring is required by MWRAs discharge permit, and its goal is to test whether the effluent is as clean as it should be, whether expectations for environmental quality are met, and whether the effects of the outfall match those expected from modeling.
Measurements begin in the Deer Island sewage treatment plant. Primary treatment settles out solids in the sewage effluent, secondary treatment oxidizes the organic material, and then the disinfection process kills pathogens. He showed where effluent leaves the disinfection basin before entering the long tunnel traveling to the outfall in Mass Bay. The following measurements ensure that all parts of the treatment process are working well and that environmental effects are minimized: pathogen indicators, residual chlorine, total suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, toxicity testing, PCBs, flow, pH, nitrogen loading, and numerous organic and inorganic contaminants. EPA and MADEP limit the allowed concentrations through the discharge permit.
The following measurements in the receiving waters are designed to detect environmental effects: nutrients, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature, salinity, light, water clarity, solids, phytoplankton, nuisance and noxious algae, zooplankton, photosynthesis, respiration, remote sensing, moored instruments, marine mammal observations, bacterial indicators, viruses, and diffuser mixing. The outfall could increase the naturally present nitrogen and then increase abundance of phytoplankton algae. Too much nitrogen can lead to high chlorophyll (an indicator of plant biomass), discolored water, harmful algae, and low oxygen in bottom waters when the algae sink and decay.
The monitoring in Mass Bay focuses on the area around the outfall. The effluent travels over about 10 hours through the underground tunnel to the outfall diffuser in Mass Bay. He outlined the area around the outfall called the nearfield. MWRA also measures beyond the nearfield, to see changes in Boston Harbor, to determine how waters from the Gulf of Maine affect the Bay, and whether there are effects as far as Cape Cod Bay.
A dedicated whale observer is on board during the nearfield surveys, and the winter-spring farfield surveys. The data supplement the whale sighting database. Sightings indicate that whales are present but infrequent near the outfall. Two right whales were observed in 1999, but none in 2000. The 2001 data have not been analyzed yet.
Organic material and toxic material can settle out on the sea floor in soft-bottom or muddy areas. Monitoring looks for toxics in the mud and for diversity of the benthic community. The sea floor near the outfall is very patchy, eroding from some areas and accumulating sand and mud in other areas. He showed the areas where it is possible to take a grab of sediment and MWRA has stations near the outfall and mentioned that there are also farfield stations. In addition to effluent, water column, and sediments, MWRA also monitors fish and shellfish. MWRA measures toxics and health of flounder, lobster, and transplanted mussels at three areas, the outfall, Boston Harbor, and Cape Cod Bay.
M. Mickelson then compared monitoring data to computer modeling. He showed results of a model that simulated the ocean and the old and new outfalls on a computer. He then showed real monitoring data for ammonium collected by water column monitoring with the same pattern as the model higher levels of ammonium near the old and new outfalls. He then showed a transect of model results from Boston Harbor, through the nearfield, and down to Cape Cod Bay to show that effluent concentration varies with depth and distance. Model results from October 1999 show effluent from the Harbor outfall reaching the sea surface. In October 2000, with the new outfall, the model shows effluent is trapped in bottom waters and does not reach the sea surface.
Monitoring data for ammonia, taken in October, after the outfall went on-line, show a similar pattern, with effluent trapped below the surface in October 2000. These comparisons give some confidence in the models used in decisions about siting the outfall. This compared only part of the modeling effort. MWRA is currently working on testing real data against the model that predicts levels of chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen.
In addition to model comparisons, the monitoring data also show whether the treatment plant is working well, and whether expectations for environmental quality are met. If they are not, as reflected by exceedances of certain thresholds, then the CP specifies a timely response as shown in this decision diagram. If a threshold is exceeded, MWRA provides notification within five days (to regulators, OMSAP, the web, Hyannis Library) and the problem is corrected, reviewed, or more measurements are made. If a warning level is exceeded, there is additional response with an evaluation of whether MWRA caused an adverse environmental impact. There is also ongoing planning and reporting until the problem is resolved.
M. Mickelson then described the two warning level exceedances in 2000, and both were in the treatment plant. MWRA added too much disinfecting chlorine to the effluent in December during a storm. This showed the need for extra control equipment, which had not yet been installed, but was shortly afterwards. Since then, there have been no exceedances for chlorine. Second, the effluent measured too acidic, with a pH below 6, in December. MWRAs effluent leans toward slightly acidic due to addition of pure oxygen during secondary treatment, leading to supersaturation by carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a weak acid. MWRA now agitates the samples to allow the CO2 to escape, which mimics what happens as the effluent falls down into the outfall tunnel.
In Mass Bay, there were two caution level exceedances in 2000: one for high chlorophyll and one for low DO saturation. The evidence is that both were natural events, had no adverse impact, and are not recurring in 2001. The chlorophyll threshold exceedance is a good example of how the Contingency Plan process worked, and how all ways we monitor the bay can be helpful in understanding an unusual occurrence.
Chlorophyll, a measure of the amount of phytoplankton algae in the water, was as high as we have ever recorded in the Mass Bay in the fall of 2000, and it exceeded the threshold. MWRA assembled supporting data on this for OMSAP review. The phytoplankton community was normal. DO, benthic chlorophyll, and benthic respiration were normal. Particulate organic carbon, (another indication of biomass) and phytoplankton cell counts were moderate and peaked in early September before the chlorophyll bloom. It looks like it was part of a large regional bloom having cells that were particularly rich in the plant pigment chlorophyll. Fall 2000 satellite imagery confirmed that there was a region-wide algal bloom from New Jersey north to the Bay of Fundy. The bloom developed in a south-north direction beginning in August. Though the chlorophyll was high, there were no harmful blooms or low dissolved oxygen associated with the bloom. Chlorophyll so far has been normal in 2001.
The plankton community was normal in autumn 2000 even though the Bay has a history of three types of harmful algae: Alexandrium, Phaeocystis, and Pseudonitzschia. There was a bloom of Alexandrium in 1993 in the region, with high cell counts and shellfish closures due to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). The cells appear to flow down from Maine with currents and may or may not enter Mass Bay depending on the oceanography. Maine had a lot of PSP in 2000, and high cell counts in 2001. These may be cells from Maine. The nuisance alga Phaeocystis only appears in April and only in some years and it seems to repel whales. Spring of 2001 was a good year for right whales, with 31 calves born. Although Pseudonitzschia are found in occasionally high levels in Mass Bay, amnesic shellfish poisoning has not been detected in Mass Bay shellfish.
The algae bloom of 2000 did not cause abnormally low levels of DO. DO was actually much lower in 1999 than in 2000 and 2001 so far seems like a normal year. OMSAP reviewed the data and recommended that the thresholds for DO take into account the natural background levels. This is more consistent with the state DO standard.
M. Mickelson ended his presentation with a video taken as part of the monitoring of the rocky cobble community near the outfall. He reviewed the geometry of the outfall tunnel in relation to Deer Island and showed a sketch of one of the 55 diffuser caps on the sea floor in 100 feet of water. Each cap is about 12 feet high. He then showed a photograph of the remote observing vehicle (ROV) that took the video. The video began with the ROV is approaching one of the risers. Marine snow was visible and is normal. Overall, the rocks looked normal, the appearance of the life on the diffuser cap was consistent with it just being just another big rock. Discharge of the effluent was visible. The apparent color of the effluent is due to an index of refraction. Many animals were visible living on and around the diffuser cap, including anemones, sea squirts, cunner, flounder, and lobster.
DISCUSSION & QUESTIONS
S. Redlich: What are the predictions for further recovery of Boston Harbor sediments?
A. Rex: We expect it to continue as the metals and contaminants are flushed out. The Ampelisca tubemats are being replaced, in a process of succession, by animals that are more typical of a more pristine ecosystem. Also, the seafloor communities are becoming a little more diverse. I expect that more and more of the harbor will begin to look more like the cleaner southern part of the harbor (Hingham and Hull Bays) and hopefully even seagrass will return.
R. Buchsbaum: Why hasnt the sediment quality has improved in Quincy Bay?
A. Rex: Quincy Bay is not well flushed, and the water is particularly turbid, however, we do not know exactly why the sediment quality has not improved.
D. Tomey: Have you seen a decrease in carbon loading in the sediments, relative to the sediment flushing?
A. Rex: I do not have that data here, but I would think yes.
W. Sung: Are the sediments actually a source of pollution to the harbor?
A. Rex: MWRA measures contaminants in mussel tissue in the Inner Harbor and results indicate that the water is still polluted, but I am not sure whether the contaminants are flushed out of the sediments.
D. Tomey: With a decrease in carbon, there could be a flux with metals.
J. Shine: Or sulfides.
A. Rex: I agree. It is an interesting conundrum, that when organic matter is removed, in fact, metals are mobilized. However, I doubt that the harbor has reached this point. Also, the harbor is so well flushed that any contaminants that were migrating into the water column would be flushed out of the harbor relatively quickly.
M. Liebman: Dredging data from the harbor (around 1998 when the Nut Island Treatment Plant closed) did measure contaminants in the water column, but there were no exceedances of the water quality criteria.
J. Shine: What is the overall contribution of bacteria to Boston Harbor from other sources? Has this changed very much?
A. Rex: We have seen reductions in some areas where MWRA, together with the communities, have disconnected illegal sewer connections into storm drains (e.g. Constitution Beach). Also, with the increased pumping capacity of the treatment plant, the system does not back up as much, and there are not as many combined sewer overflows (CSOs). However, there have not been enough large rainstorms since the outfall has been online to determine what exactly what changes there have been. But it certainly should reduce CSOs. Keep in mind that there are other sources like dogs, boats, and birds. There is still a lot of work to do and contaminated stormwater is probably the biggest and most difficult problem to deal with, because it is so diffuse.
R. Buchsbaum: It is my impression that there were a fair number of beach closures this past summer as a result of contaminated stormwater.
A. Rex: The newspapers did report several beach closures this past summer. However, over the past five years, beach postings have remained fairly constant. MWRA has done some intense monitoring, sampling daily at several Boston Harbor beaches. In 2001 Pleasure Bay was closed 9% of the time, Constitution 17%, Carson 23% (higher than usual), Tenean 34%, and Wollaston 36%. In some years, Wollaston has been closed more than half the time.
R. Buchsbaum: It seemed like it was a bad year for beach closures in Salem.
A. Rex: Summer 2001 was a little rainier, but there was also extra publicity. This is actually typical for what it has been for the past five years. In the 1980s, before MWRA started doing any work at all, there were noticeably more beach postings. Some say that changing to the new Enterococcus standard may explain some increased postings. One advantage of using Enterococcus is that it does not die off as quickly in the sample cup, as coliform does. If you have agencies that may not be bringing the sample as quickly to the lab as they should, then the Enterococcus may be a more realistic sample of what is actually in the water. MWRA does not have a problem with transport time because we have our own lab.
B. Berman: Is this a list of compiled bacterial exceedances?
A. Rex: These are beach postings, a more conservative estimate. These are days when at least one sample per beach day meets the Enterococcus limit and most of the beaches do not get posted unless two samples meet.
W. Sung: I am surprised that the attendance tonight is low. Will there be more aggressive public outreach for the next workshop?
A. Rex: There were more than 1000 mailings, posting on several websites, emails, newsletters, and a press release.
P. Foley: It is perhaps not surprising, but a little bit disappointing for us to have a small turnout. All of us, OMSAP, PIAC, and the agencies, not only have put an enormous amount of thought and time into the message this evening to the public, how to deliver it, and make sure that it is understandable to the public. We did an enormous amount of mailings, we posted it on websites, we advertised with the Coastal Advisory Network, and sent notifications to a host of email serving lists. We did press releases, sent it off to community newspapers, so I think that our outreach was intense and aggressive and not at all last minute. I think that all of us in this planning process had a feeling that because there is no controversy right now, and because there are so many other things happening in peoples lives, while we hoped that the turnout would be better, unfortunately, it was not. We will do some follow-up using the same vehicles to let people know what transpired at these workshops.
R. Buchsbaum: Perhaps the message is to declare victory [with the Boston Harbor Project].
A. Solow: Thanks to everyone for attending this evening.
DISCUSSION & QUESTIONS
B. Adler: I represent the MA Lobstermens Association and one of the things that our Boston Harbor fishermen noticed in the harbor before the new outfall opened was that MWRA was making the water too clean, like a swimming pool. The chlorine at times was quite intense, and there wasnt anything living in the harbor. I am concerned about the temperature, salinity, and chlorine and metals concentrations of the effluent.
A. Rex: The old Deer Island Treatment Plant did not dechlorinate, but the new one does. MWRAs permit has a very strict (i.e. very low) chlorine residual limit that we have to meet. One of the benefits of secondary treatment is that it takes a lot of the solids out of the wastestream, and making it much easier to disinfect, so we actually use a lot less chlorine now than when we were just doing primary treatment and discharging in the harbor. MWRA also dechlorinates which was never done before, so that really should not be an issue.
B. Adler: The lobstermen did indicate that once the outfall was diverted to the bay, the habitat in the harbor has grown back. While the discharge did not kill the animals, it kept them out of the harbor. But I am still concerned about the temperature, salinity, and chlorine effect on the bottom now that the new outfall is on-line.
B. Berman: One of the things that I noticed was that lobsters like dead and decaying matter. Is it possible that one of the reasons why there are not so many lobsters in the harbor because MWRA is no longer discharging partially treated sewage into the harbor?
A. Rex: It could be. There used to be a lot of lobster pots in and around the discharge areas in Boston Harbor. Also, lobster biology is very complicated. Lobsters migrate depending on local temperature and salinity regimes.
M. Mickelson: The effluent from the new outfall discharges upwards and is diluted fairly quickly. The temperature is slightly lower than bottom water. It is nearly fresh water (approximately 3 parts per thousand). Chlorine is within the permit limit, and is actually fairly low due to the long travel time in the tunnel. Juvenile lobsters tend to not be in this area, although the adult lobsters are.
W. Bergeron: First, MWRA gave a fine presentation, it was done in understandable terms for the public, and the presentations were very clear. Second, I want to ask about the potential long-term effects. Impacts of outfalls frequently do not have a catastrophic effect, but rather there is degradation over a long period of time. This was a presentation of the status of a year when things look healthy and hopefully it will look the same 10 years from now. However, having said that, from OMSAPs viewpoint, do you have any plans to drop any of the monitoring over a period of time? It is our feeling that we are just beginning this process, and we do not want to lose the monitoring or thresholds just because nothing happened in one year.
A. Solow: I do not think there is any plan to drop any of the monitoring of the variables that are being monitored. I think that it is important that we are alert chronic low-grade impacts, and we are always trying to think about ways of looking at changes in the system that are subtle. Ecological systems can respond in very subtle ways and we need to try to understand the system and be alert to this kind of change, not just single threshold exceedances occurring one at a time. We share your concern, and we will be vigilant in that regard.
P. Foley: On behalf of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, we think that ongoing monitoring efforts are critically important, not simply a year from now, or 2 years from now. One of our important public policy initiatives will be to continue to track appropriations for monitoring and if it appears that monitoring will be cut, we will be contacting you and others in the region to work with us in advocacy and educating to make sure that monitoring is not reduced.
M. Loebig: Will threshold values will be dropped or changed?
A. Solow: We are still learning about the levels that trigger caution or warning thresholds, and as we learn about them, they may be revised. If we have a caution or warning threshold that is exceeded often and it is clear that it is not related to the outfall, then we may recommend a revision. However, we will not just make changes that make thresholds more lenient until we never see any problems so we can say that everything is working well. Again, we do not want to be slaves to the thresholds, we need to be holistic, in a sense, and examine the monitoring data to try to understand if we are seeing subtle changes.
B. Beardsley: Another use of the monitoring data is to help us learn more about the system and provide data to models. One of the benefits of this program, which is unusual, is to have this long time series of data. There are two models, circulation and water quality, and they are tested and refined by comparing the results of the models for each year verses the monitoring data collected. These models could possibly be used some day to predict local impacts of climate change, so it is critical from my point of view, to keep the monitoring going, to keep trying to improve the predictive capabilities of the modeling.
Audience: Is there any other comparable monitoring program in the country with MWRAs scope, detail, and frequency? Also, is the effluent of biotechnology companies regulated, and if so, are they required to treat biologically active compounds?
M. Mickelson: Each institution and university has a safety committee that reviews what is discharged and how it is treated. Small amounts of chlorine effectively kill organisms in effluent.
Audience: Are there thresholds for pharmaceutical chemicals in wastewater?
A. Rex: There are no limits for pharmaceuticals. MWRA is studying estrogen-mimicking chemicals in its effluent, in Boston Harbor, and in Mass Bay. The understanding of effects of these chemicals in the environment is still an evolving science, and there needs to be more done in the regulatory area as well.
M. Mickelson: Perhaps the most comparable monitoring program to MWRA is in southern California. Another large monitoring program is in Puget Sound in Washington State. MWRA is currently the largest effluent monitoring program in the world.
Audience: Why have there been so many beach closing on Cape Cod in the summer of 2001? Is this caused by the MWRA outfall pipe?
A. Solow: The beach closings are not from the outfall.
A. Rex: We are very confident that the beach closings are not caused by the outfall. We do monitoring in the area around the outfall pipe, and we rarely detect any sewage-related bacteria out there. The beaches on Cape Cod are so far away from the outfall, that it is not plausible that there would be any impact. The Cape problems are probably similar to Boston problems. There are shoreline sources of bacteria such as contaminated stormwater, boat discharges, septic systems, animals, and birds. Boston has combined sewer overflow problems as well. It takes a lot of work to figure out exactly what caused a beach closing.
B. Berman: I agree, and there was also a lot more media coverage this year. The BEACH Bill, resulted in standards and testing on beaches that we assumed were clean. A beautiful beach on the south side of Cape Cod was closed, and everyone had assumed it was clean. It had even won a national award for being one of the cleanest beaches in the nation. It was the first time that it had ever been tested and it turned out that there was a septic problem related to a back-up. Some of the large beaches in Boston are closed 20% of the time, and as you look on a finer level, it is due to a broken pipe, birds, boaters, CSOs, or filthy stormwater. These problems need to be solved on a community-by-community, or even a beach-by-beach basis.
Audience: Do you only monitor by the outfall?
A. Solow: No, there are monitoring stations in Cape Cod Bay.
M. Mickelson: [showed an overhead of monitoring stations] Cape Cod Bay is sampled six times a year.
B. Beardsley: It is interesting to note that model results show various places along the coast where there were local hot spots of high chlorophyll due to local effects. I think people need to look more locally to find out the cause of events.
Audience: How long will the monitoring continue?
A. Solow: There are no plans to discontinue the monitoring.
Audience: Who is funding this monitoring?
A. Rex: MWRA ratepayers are funding this monitoring, about $4 million a year.
Audience: The excessive building on the Cape, the limited size of the Cape, the large number of new homes, the large number of septic systems, all of this can cause problems to the ocean and drinking water. This is one of the big problems for the Cape.
A. Solow: I agree.
B. Adler: Are MWRAs monitoring stations separate from those of the Center for Coastal Studies?
P. Borrelli: Im Peter Borrelli, director of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. The Center for Coastal Studies has set up an independent monitoring program that involves 10 stations in Cape Cod Bay, and some stations further north near the outfall. The stations in Cape Cod Bay do not overlap the MWRA stations. They were selected from the 20 historical stations that the Center for Coastal Studies has been sampling for the past 15-20 years. Recently we have found some interesting data off of Plymouth in deep water, which may be an indication of local effects, totally unrelated to the southward flow from the outfall. Several of the Cape Cod Commissioners have suggested that we look at impacts from the Cape communities themselves, particularly as the build out of the Cape increases. The closure mentioned earlier, Coast Guard Beach, inside the Cape Cod National Seashore, had been given an award for being one of the best beaches in the United States. It turned out that the Cape Cod National Seashores bathhouses were impacting the beach. This may have been occurring for years, but because the water sampling began this past summer, we just became aware of the problem.
S. Mayo: Though the Center for Coastal Studies stations do not overlap with MWRAs stations, most are generally in the same vicinity. At some point, we would like to get together with MWRA and see if we have similar results.
A. Laughnane: I am a town counselor for Barnstable and member of the Bays Legal Fund Board of Trustees. We should give a lot of credit to the Bays Legal Fund and all the other organizations that lobbied and testified for so long to have the monitoring and the Contingency Plan for this large experiment, the outfall pipe. We should not become complacent because of good findings for the first year. There are some things in there that could be used as a warning, for instance paralytic shellfish poisoning in the Gulf of Maine, and the fresh water and temperature of the outfall. I am very happy to see that we have monitoring the outfall, but we cannot let down our guard because there could be a future malfunction, or there could be subtle changes in the environment.
A. Solow: I think we all agree. It is important that the public stays on top of this and OMSAPs Public Interest Advisory Committee has been very consistent. I myself would have liked to have seen more people at this workshop. But things are going well so far, and there is a tendency to become complacent, and it is important that this does not happen. It is important to keep people interested in this issue.
B. Berman: Just to be clear, OMSAP examines the monitoring results, and is not paid. Everyone wants to make sure that there is integrity in the data.
M. Mickelson: In addition, MWRA makes every effort to fund collaborative studies, and helped fund the Center for Coastal Studies project. MWRA is also becoming involved with the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System (GoMOOS), part of a national movement to coordinate monitoring activities. GoMOOS recently installed a mooring off of Cape Ann that continuously records oceanographic parameters, as recommended by OMSAP. Interestingly, Harvard, in conjunction with NATOs largest research vessel conducted a detailed survey of Mass Bay in June 2001. Their data are quickly posted on the web and they also conduct comprehensive modeling. The USGS has been key in providing some of the most valuable monitoring information. They have been maintaining a mooring in Mass Bay and they have been studying sediment and contamination transport, as well as other topics. There are several posters in the hall showing the work of USGS.
S. Mayo: Our CCS project is not as extensive as the MWRA program, but I hope someday it may be. While indeed this first year of our work is broadly supportive of what MWRA has been saying, it is only the first year, and our observations are indeed preliminary. The project is attempting to track the effluent by looking at the different nitrogen compounds. Though this work generally supports what MWRA has stated about impacts to Cape Cod Bay, but we are still in a new situation and things could change. We have to continue our sampling, just as MWRA needs to continue its monitoring.
M. Bothner: I work for the USGS and I would like to emphasize that this long term monitoring is giving us some very important scientific information. Not only are we learning about the outfall, but we also learn more about how the system works. This is valuable information. An example of this is our study of sediments near the outfall for various levels of metals. Concentrations of metals in the surface sediments, well before the outfall went on-line, were very high. In the early 1990s, the No-Name or Perfect Storm caused tremendous resuspension of the bottom sediments and moved contaminated fine-grained sediments. Silver concentrations increased by at least a factor of three and they went decreased. With this storm, we learned a lot about what a storm could do to the inventories of contaminants in the sediments.
Audience: Stormy, do you have any comment on the idea that Phaeocystis actually repels right whales?
S. Mayo: I have observed that phenomenon with whales but it may well be happening with other species. However, this type of observation is difficult to update and quantify.
Audience: How about other species?
S. Mayo: We have seen one example when there was a major mortality of humpback whales supposedly caused by mackerel [containing red tide toxin] and there was some human health concern since mackerel are fished.
A. Solow: Thank you everyone for attending this evening.
ATTENDEES, BOSTON: Bruce Berman, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay/PIAC; Robert Buchsbaum, Audubon/PIAC; Margaret Callanan, Cape Cod Commission; David Coles; Cathy Coniaris, MADEP; Mike Delaney, MWRA; Patty Foley, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay/PIAC; Glenn Haas, MADEP; Carlton Hunt, Battelle; Marilee Hunt; Bob Kenney, URI/OMSAP; Michael Kozu, Project Right; Matt Liebman, EPA/IAAC; Steve Lipman, MADEP/IAAC; Mike Mickelson, MWRA; Elizabeth Murray, MWRA; Judy Pederson, MIT SeaGrant/OMSAP; Susan Redlich, MADEP; Andrea Rex, MWRA; Jim Shine, Harvard School of Public Health/OMSAP; Andy Solow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/OMSAP; Windsor Sung, MWRA; Dave Tomey, EPA/IAAC; Grace Vitale, MWRA; Karen Wepsic, Jamaica Pond Association; and David Wu, MWRA.
ATTENDEES, HYANNIS: Bill Adler, MA Lobstermens Association; Fred Albert, STOP; Ruth Albert, STOP; Bob Beardsley, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/OMSAP; Wayne Bergeron, Bays Legal Fund/PIAC; Bruce Berman, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay/PIAC; Peter Borrelli, Center for Coastal Studies/PIAC; Mike Bothner, USGS; Mary Buck; Margaret Callanan, Cape Cod Commission; Cathy Coniaris, MADEP; David Dow, NMFS/IAAC; Robert Duncanson, Barnstable County CRC; Patty Foley, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay/PIAC; Cynthia Franklin; Dave Gilmartin, MWRA; Jennifer Hackin, AT&T 3 News; Ben Cowie-Haskell, NMFS/Stellwagen Bank; Roger Janson, EPA; Audrey Laughnane, Bays Legal Fund; Matt Liebman, EPA/IAAC; John Lipman, Cape Cod Commission/PIAC; Steve Lipman, MADEP/IAAC; Mary Loebig, STOP; Irene McHugh; Ed Maroney, Barnstable Patriot; Stormy Mayo, Center for Coastal Studies; Mike Mickelson, MWRA; Douglas Pluciennik; Helen Pluciennik; Andrea Rex, MWRA; Susan Rohebach, asst. to Sen. Robert OLeary; Jim Shine, Harvard School of Public Health/OMSAP; Andy Solow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/OMSAP; Steve Tucker, Cape Cod Commission/PIAC; and Nick Vakalopoulos.
Summary prepared by C. Coniaris. Post-workshop comments are included in [brackets]. All such comments have been inserted for clarification only. They do not, nor are they intended to, suggest that such insertions were part of the live meeting components and have been expressly set-off so as to avoid such inference.