Baker: Let’s use federal dollars to fix overflowing sewers

The first half of July gave Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration more than two dozen new examples of sewage being dumped into public waterways after heavy rains that they can report as they continue to argue that federal aid must be used immediately. to deal with the problem.

In the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s service area alone, nearly 30 cases of sewage and rainwater discharging from the sewerage system into water bodies were reported in the first two weeks. July, a section that experienced unusually high precipitation. For weeks, Baker tried to get the legislature to release some of the American Rescue Plan Act’s $ 5.3 billion to deal with sewage discharges.

“What worries me about this is that we are missing the opportunity to make these investments because, you know, time is running out,” Baker said Tuesday during a hearing on his spending plan. federal aid, which includes $ 400 million to modernize water. and sewerage infrastructure.

“On top of that, just the fact that every time we have a terrible rainstorm, we keep seeing very significant pollution in these rivers and bodies of water. And here’s a great opportunity for us to do something about it. about it and start working on it now. “

Parts of Massachusetts – Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, and Somerville in the MWRA’s service area – have combined sewer systems, in which stormwater runs through the same pipes as wastewater. When it rains heavily, storm water and groundwater submerge the systems. To prevent sewage back-ups into homes and streets, discharge points called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) that are integrated with sewerage systems are activated and discharge part of the sewage and rainwater. in the nearest body of water.

Although 93% of its CSO streams are processed through screening, disinfection and dechlorination, the MWRA said, CSO releases can carry bacteria and cause algae blooms. The problem is a major concern along the Merrimack River and in the Greater Boston area.

People swimming after torrential rains “actually have adverse effects on public health” due to CSO releases, Energy and Environmental Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said on Wednesday.

In the 13 days between June 30 and July 12, the MWRA’s sewage system received 11.17 inches of precipitation, or about a quarter of the annual average precipitation, wrote executive director Fred Laskey in a note. presented at a board meeting on Wednesday. The July 1-2 storm dropped the most precipitation, 3.46 inches, followed by the July 9 tropical storm that sprayed the area with 2.89 inches of rain.

“To add a bit of perspective, Deer Island’s flow rate in June was 291 million gallons per day and just between June 30 and July 12 it averaged 588 MGD,” said David Duest, director of the Deer Island processing plant at the meeting. “In other words, more than twice the June flow.”

According to MWRA accounting, only three days in the 13-day window did not see any measurable precipitation, and the rapid succession of thunderstorms limited the ability of the sanitation system to fully recover before more water. does not happen, resulting in many rejections from CSOs.

During those 13 days, the MWRA reported 29 CSO releases with an estimated value of 309.15 million gallons in various waterways such as the Charles River, the Mystic River and the Fort Point Canal.

“These past weeks of endless rain have demonstrated how essential it is to tackle this problem and fix it now,” Baker told lawmakers on Tuesday.
In February, the governor signed a law that, starting next July, will require sewer system operators to issue public notices within two hours of a discharge and every eight hours until the discharge is complete. with a final notice within two hours of its conclusion.

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At the time of signing, advocates said about 3 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage is dumped into state waterways each year.
Recent heavy rains are also affecting the drinking water side of the MWRA, but not to about the same degree.

The Quabbin reservoir was at 94.1% of its 412 billion gallon capacity as of July 1 and began to discharge – essentially by overflowing in a controlled manner – at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the chief operating officer said. from the MWRA, David Coppes.

“The water operations staff worked seven days a week, freeing up as the rivers recede to try and maintain freeboard in all of our tanks, but so as not to contribute to the flooding conditions in downstream, ”he said.

Coppes said the Quabbin is about three-quarters of a foot higher than normal for this time of year. And instead of water levels dropping as normally happens in midsummer, “they’re rising rapidly,” he said.

“We just started to tip over… it doesn’t tip over a lot yet, but Quabbin is like a big freight train. It takes a lot of momentum to get it moving. [and] once it starts to shoot it rolls for a really long time, ”Coppes said. “So we’ll likely see spills continue for a while before we recover there. “

In 2006, the MWRA said the Quabbin poured out for 306 consecutive days.

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