EPA, Massachusetts Settle with City of Lowell Over Water Pollution Concerns

Lowell commits to major sewer upgrades to curb Merrimack River pollution.

In an agreement with federal and state authorities, the City of Lowell, Massachusetts, has pledged to upgrade its sewage systems, committing around $195 million to mitigate pollution in the Merrimack River. This initiative aims to protect the vital drinking water source for numerous downstream communities and address several longstanding environmental concerns.

According to a release dated Feb. 5, the settlement—jointly announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Justice Department and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts—mandates Lowell to reduce sewage discharges into the river. As part of the consent decree, Lowell will pay a $200,000 penalty for past violations of environmental laws.

Lowell's wastewater system combines sanitary sewage and stormwater runoff. It has contributed to pollution, especially during wet weather when untreated sewage overflows into the Merrimack River and its tributaries. Planned upgrades include separating wastewater from stormwater to prevent overflows and eliminating illicit connections that contribute to stormwater pollution.

The agreement underscores a collective effort to address combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which have long plagued the Merrimack River, affecting water quality and community health, particularly in historically disadvantaged areas. The settlement is a step toward ensuring clean and safe water for Lowell and the surrounding communities, with potential funding assistance from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to alleviate the financial burden on local ratepayers.

The consent decree is part of an effort to eliminate harmful discharges from municipal sewer systems, which can cause other environmental and public health issues. The proposed consent decree is now subject to a 30-day public comment period and awaits court approval.

About the Author

Robert Yaniz Jr. is the Content Editor for Environmental Protection.

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