BOSTON (SHNS) – In 2006 when Denise Provost was a new member of the state House of Representatives, a Somerville High School student she was shadowing pointed to the Mystic River on a map in her office.
“I row for the Somerville High School crew team,” Provost told the student. “And sometimes when we’re out in the river it seems like we’re rowing through raw sewage. Is that possible?”
Provost, who was recently taken on a combined sewer overflow tour by the Mystic River Watershed Association, told him it was possible.
“He asked me very clearly, what are you going to do about it?” Provost, who had not asked for re-election last year, recalled an event 15 years later to mark the signing of a new law requiring public disclosure of sewage discharges into waterways.
“We did something about it and we can be proud of it and I will always be grateful,” she said.
The law, signed Jan. 12, by Governor Charlie Baker, requires sewer operators to issue public notices within two hours of the discharge and every eight hours until the end of the discharge. A final notice must be given within two hours of its completion. The Ministry of Environmental Protection, which is also responsible for posting information on discharge notifications on its website, has one year to develop regulations on the legal provisions.
When submitting an indication of wastewater disposal, operators must describe the location, approximate time, date and duration, estimated runoff volume, affected water and land areas and all precautionary measures to avoid health risks. You need to set up a public advice website, notify local health officials, send emails or texts to people who have subscribed to the notifications, and send the first advice and updates to the two largest news organizations, which is via local news in nearby communities of the US report discharge, ”says the law.
The termination obligations come into force 540 days after the law has been signed or in July 2022.
“This bill won’t stop discharges, but it will let people know when there is sewage in the water and help them be safe,” said Somerville Senator Patricia Jehlen.
Notification advocates have stated that wastewater discharges often occur when there is heavy rainfall in communities that have combined sewage and drainage systems. When rainwater floods the system, overflow channels can divert excess rainwater and sewage directly into the waterways. The drains or combined sewer overflows can carry bacteria and cause algal bloom.
About 3 billion gallons of raw or partially treated wastewater are discharged into the state’s waterways every year, said Julia Blatt, of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance.
She said sanitation is an environmental justice issue as it is more of an issue for waterways in urban areas like the Merrimack and Mystic Rivers in general.
“We hope that this reporting requirement is only a first step and that it raises awareness of the need to invest in our water infrastructure and to modernize it,” said Blatt.
Baker described the legislation as “one of those bills that gets on your desk and you’re glad it got there.” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said it was an issue where awareness and quick response were 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. Bringing on the climate bill that Baker submitted 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, she said the idea “could be something that we could work together on in this next phase. “
MP Linda Dean Campbell said the bill will “increase our urgency to work even more closely with our federal partners to get more funding to upgrade our wastewater treatment plants.” The Methuen Democrat said similar federal laws have also been filed at the federal level.
Campbell concluded by saying that Baker, Polito, and Minister for Energy and Environment Kathleen Theoharides said that one day she would like to visit them on the Merrimack River.
“Governor, we’ll get you an extra long kayak and get you out of there,” she said. “It’s a great workout, by the way, especially when the tides come up. The beauty of this river truly applies to all rivers throughout the Commonwealth, to all of our waters. It’s also an important part of our economy. “