When Julia Blatt of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance told people about efforts to pass a law requiring public reporting of sewage in waterways, the most common question she heard in response was, “Isn’t that a law? “
“Fortunately, it is now,” Blatt said during a virtual event that Governor Charlie Baker held to celebrate his signing of the law.
About 3 billion gallons of raw or partially treated wastewater are discharged into the state’s waterways every year, Blatt said.
Senator Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who helped pass the bill, said the bill will help people stay safe by letting them know when wastewater that may contain bacteria or viruses is in Water is where they want to kayak, fish, or otherwise trade recreation.
The new law stipulates that the Ministry of Environmental Protection will provide information on discharge notifications on its website. Sewage system operators would have to issue public notices within two hours of discharge and every eight hours until the end of discharge, and a definitive notice within two hours of discharge.
Baker said the legislation was “one of those bills that got on your desk and you’re glad it got there,” and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said it was an issue where awareness and quick response are important.
Polito said it was also important to help communities maintain and replace aging infrastructure, a task that communities do not always have the resources to carry out. She brought up the climate bill that Baker filed at the previous session, which would increase the excise tax paid on property transfers to fund infrastructure designed to cope with the effects of climate change.