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Release Date: 11/30/1998
Contact Information: Leo Kay, Press Office, (617) 918-1055

BOSTON -- The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection have launched a program designed to improve water quality in the Mystic/Alewife Basin by eliminating illegal sewer discharges and improving the quality of storm water discharges.

Federal and state regulators began the program earlier this month by sending out orders to the communities of Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville and Winchester requiring them to address the issue of illicit discharges to storm drains. The orders, issued under the authority of the Clean Water Act, require responses from the communities by July 1, 1999.

The program is patterned after a similar effort to improve water quality in the Charles River to make it swimmable and fishable by Earth Day 2005. Efforts in the Charles River have led to substantial improvements in water quality during both wet and dry weather.

Water quality sampling shows that there have been violations of state standards for fecal coliform bacteria during both wet and dry weather in Alewife Brook and during wet weather in the Mystic River as it flows through the six communities, indicating the potential presence of illegal discharges. In some places, sewer pipes may be illegally connected to storm drains, leading to direct discharges of sewage into the river.

"Our strategy is working and working well on the Charles; it's time to put it to work on the Mystic. For too many years, the Mystic River has suffered from discharges of polluted storm water. A comprehensive strategy to address CSO and storm water discharges -- both major sources of poor water quality -- will go a long way to returning this resource to better days," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of the EPA's New England Office. "Working closely with the DEP, we intend to seek out and eliminate illegal discharges to storm drains and to require improved storm water management as part of an overall strategy to improve water quality in the Mystic/Alewife Basin."

"A great deal of time and money and attention has been focused on cleaning up some high profile water bodies, like Boston Harbor and the Charles River," said DEP Commissioner David B. Struhs. "We want to expand the focus, to make sure the same level of attention is paid to the Mystic and other watershed basins in the state which have similar stormwater problems."

Under the terms of the EPA/DEP partnership, the EPA will take the lead in the project's first phase involving the recent issuance of the orders to the communities. The DEP will serve as the lead agency in the second phase involving enforcement actions against illegal dischargers, with the EPA in an oversight role.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority recently finalized a plan -- which includes controls in Cambridge and Somerville -- to further minimize the impacts of combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges to the Mystic/Alewife Basin. Information gathered by the MWRA Harbor Studies Group and others has confirmed that violations of fishable and swimmable standards occur during both dry and wet weather. Dry weather is defined as a period of at least 72 hours in which there was no precipitation or snow melt.

In accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, the EPA and DEP are requiring the following information from Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville and Winchester:

    1. Maps showing the location and size of each of the town's storm water outfalls. The maps must also delineate the runoff area tributary to each pipe.
    2. Maps showing the location of any combination sewer/storm drain manholes, sewer under drains, and siphon structures in the community sewer system.
    3. At least two checks of each of the town's storm water outfalls into the Mystic River and Alewife Brook and their tributaries to determine whether the discharge is active during dry weather. Observations must include an estimate of the flow rate, as well as a description of odor, color, turbidity, floatables (solids and liquids), and solids. The towns must also check on any point sources not owned by the town found to be discharging during dry weather.
    4. Sampling reports of each of the active dry weather discharges from storm water outfalls to determine whether the discharge contains pollutants that would indicate illegal discharges to the system. At a minimum, each town is required to sample each active discharge on two separate days for fecal coliform bacteria, enterococcus, e. coli, surfactants, ammonia-nitrogen, conductivity, and fluoride. Observations of odor, color, turbidity, floatables, and solids must also be recorded.
    5. A plan to identify and eliminate illegal sewer discharges to the storm drains for areas where sampling results indicate the presence of sanitary sewer flows.
In the meantime, the MWRA will implement a plan in the Mystic/Alewife Basin that includes sewer separation in Cambridge, separation of baffle manholes in Somerville, and upgrading a Somerville CSO Treatment facility. This effort will reduce untreated CSO discharges to the Mystic/Alewife basin to four or fewer events in a typical year. The work will also allow the EPA and DEP to gather additional water quality information over the next three years to determine if higher levels of CSO control are required in the Mystic/Alewife Basin.

Failure to provide the information requested may result in the EPA taking an action under the Clean Water Act, which provides for administrative, civil, and criminal penalties.