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Settlement Requires Boston Water and Sewer Commission to Remedy Sewer and Stormwater Discharges

Release Date: 08/23/2012
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

WASHINGTON -- Under the terms of a consent decree lodged in federal court today, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) will implement extensive remedial measures to minimize the discharge of sewage and other pollutants into the water bodies in and around Boston, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.  The BWSC will also pay a civil penalty of $235,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act and will perform a supplemental environmental project worth at least $160,000.

The work required under this consent decree will significantly reduce remaining pollution sources discharging into and degrading water quality in Boston Harbor. The consent decree is the result of a federal enforcement action brought by the Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which filed the original complaint in the case and was an active plaintiff in the case.

“This settlement will require BWSC to take specific steps to significantly reduce discharges from its storm drain and sanitary sewer systems that have contributed pollutants to Boston Harbor and its tributaries,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.  “This settlement will produce lasting benefits for the people of Boston, incorporating green infrastructure, low impact development, and other controls that will help reduce harmful discharges and protect the environment.” 

“Together with our co-plaintiff CLF, we were able to progress from litigation to a settlement that is both comprehensive in its scope and stringent in its requirements and deadlines,” said Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.  “I am pleased that the BWSC is prepared to be proactive by taking a broad range of actions to minimize the pollutants in its stormwater discharges to Boston’s rivers, streams and harbor.” 

“This settlement represents a critical next-step in the ongoing cleanup of Boston Harbor and its associated urban rivers,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England region. “Over the past decades there’s been a remarkable transformation as Boston Harbor and local waterways have been cleaned up, thanks to work by government at all levels and environmental advocates. Under this settlement, the City of Boston will use green infrastructure and low-impact techniques to control pollutants being discharged in its stormwater to local beaches, rivers and streams, benefiting all residents of Boston who enjoy outdoor recreation in the Hub.”

Water sampling conducted by EPA indicated untreated sanitary sewage discharging from numerous BWSC stormwater outfalls.  In response, the consent decree establishes an aggressive schedule for BWSC to investigate the sources of sewage being discharged from BWSC’s storm drains.  The BWSC will first complete its investigations of drainage areas discharging to Constitution, Tenean and Malibu beaches.  BWSC will prioritize the rest of the investigations according to the sensitivity of receiving waters and evidence of sewage.  The agreement also requires BWSC to remove all identified sources of sewage as expeditiously as possible.  In addition, the settlement requires BWSC to conduct frequent and enhanced monitoring (in both dry and wet weather) of its stormwater outfalls.

The consent decree also requires BWSC to control pollutants other than sewage, such as phosphorus and metals, being discharged from its storm drain system.  To accomplish this goal, BWSC will conduct stormwater modeling and implement appropriate Best Management Practices (BMPs) to control stormwater discharges.  In evaluating BMPs, the consent decree requires BWSC to implement Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development (GI/LID) techniques wherever possible.  These types of techniques involve the use of natural or engineered systems to direct stormwater to areas where it can be stored, infiltrated, evapotranspirated or reused. 

While some of the studies and planning required by the settlement will take several years to complete, the agreement also requires BWSC to initiate GI/LID demonstration projects in East Boston’s Central Square, Audubon Circle in the Kenmore/Fenway area of the city, and at City Hall Plaza on an expedited schedule.

Finally, the settlement requires the establishment of construction and industrial inspection programs necessary to meet the requirements of BWSC’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit.

To settle the case, BWSC has also committed to implement a supplemental environmental project to address leakage from private sewer laterals.   BWSC has determined that a number of sewer lines connecting buildings to the BWSC sewage system (laterals) are leaking sewage from cracks in the laterals into the BWSC’s storm drains.  BWSC will line a minimum of 25 private sewer laterals that have been identified as sources of sewage to its storm drains.

The complaints filed by CLF and the United States alleged violations of the Clean Water Act involving the discharge of raw sewage and other pollutants to surface waters near heavily used recreation areas, such as Constitution Beach and Tenean Beach in Boston Harbor, as well as to the Charles, Mystic and Neponset Rivers.  According to the allegations, these discharges have occurred through both illegal sewer connections to the BWSC storm drain system and sanitary sewer overflows that discharge to the BWSC storm drain system or directly to local surface waters.

The complaints also alleged that BWSC violated conditions of its MS4 permit regarding the implementation of its Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Program, discharged pollutants in stormwater that violated water quality standards, and failed to develop and implement a number of programs required by the permit, including a program to inspect stormwater controls at construction sites throughout the city of Boston.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.  Once it is published in the Federal Register, a copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department Web site at

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