News Feature | January 19, 2018

Massachusetts Raw Sewage Challenges Run Deep

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

boston reg new

Massachusetts faces a deep problem with raw sewage.

"Some 2.8 billion gallons of untreated wastewater — including raw sewage — is pouring into Bay State rivers and streams annually during heavy rainfall, state records show," the Boston Herald reported, citing state records.

The Merrimack River, which flows through Massachusetts and serves as an important drinking water source, was ranked eighth in 2016 on a list of the nation’s most endangered rivers compiled by the conservation group American Rivers.

The report called for federal policy safeguards, including protections for forests along the river. It also proposed “improved stormwater management to reduce the excess nutrients and pathogens in the river.”

“In 2017, I’m shocked that the levels of contamination in the outflows, and the amount of raw sewage flowing into the river is still at the magnitude it’s at,” Amesbury Mayor Kenneth Gray told the Herald.

Sewage discharges in Bay State rivers are so severe that one state senator wants to pass legislation mandating wastewater warnings.

"Schoolchildren who row in the rivers, people who canoe and those who drink the water deserve an email warning," the Boston Herald reported, citing legislation from State Senator Patricia Jehlen.

"Her bill — an Act Promoting Awareness for State Recreation in Public Waterways — would do just that. Anyone could sign up for an email heads-up when raw sewage spills," the report said.  

Over Halloween weekend, a storm poured 8 million gallons of wastewater into the Merrimack River after the power crashed at the treatment plant in Lawrence, the Herald reported. The treatment plant did not have a backup generator.

"Next door in Lowell, records obtained by the Herald show, nearly 32 million gallons of untreated wastewater also roared into the river during the same storm because the volume overwhelmed the filtration system," the report said.

So, how bad is the sewage problem in the Merrimack?

"Local government officials and clean-water advocates say they can’t believe they’re still talking about human waste in the river," the report said.

Fixing infrastructure along the river would mitigate the problem, but the price tag for upgrades is hefty.

"From 2003 to 2013, the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility Plant spent $120 million updating its system. It will cost another $52 million to meet [U.S.] EPA standards next year," the report said.

Mark Young, head of the Lowell plant, called on the federal government to step in.

“We need federal money,” said Mark Young, head of the Lowell plant. “However high it is, senators and representatives, we need big federal dollars.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Boston harbor at night," Emmanuel Huybrechts © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: