Massachusetts Sanitary District To Invest $18 Million For Improvements, Pay $254,000 Fine

To settle alleged violations of clean water laws and government-issued permits, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District (GLSD) in northeastern Massachusetts will pay a $254,000 fine and invest in an $18 million sewage treatment plant upgrade.

These steps, required by a civil complaint and consent decree filed on Oct. 31 in U.S. District Court in Boston, resolve allegations that GLSD's combined sewer collection system had discharges from "combined sewer overflow" (CSO) outfalls, violating state water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria. CSO discharges generally occur during or after significant rainstorms when a mixture of stormwater and domestic waste exceeds the flow capacity of the combined sewer system, resulting in untreated sewage being released into the environment.

"Thanks to close coordination and strong efforts by state and federal agencies, GLSD is making improvements to its treatment plant that will better protect public health and the aquatic ecosystem of the Merrimack and Spicket rivers," said Robert W. Varney, EPA Region 1 administrator. "This settlement will bring great benefits to Lawrence and other downstream communities by reducing the number of times that sewer waste is discharged during rainy weather in the areas where people fish and recreate along the Merrimack River."

Under the settlement, GLSD will pay a total penalty of $254,000 ($127,000 to the federal government and $127,000 to the state). The district will be required to increase its monthly average treatment plant capacity from 52 million gallons per day (MGD) to a maximum peak secondary treatment capacity of 135 MGD by Dec. 31, 2007, thereby significantly reducing the number of CSO discharge events annually.

The GLSD owns and operates a 52-MGD secondary treatment plant in North Andover, Mass., serving member communities of Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and North Andover (all in Massachusetts), as well as Salem, N.H. The treatment plant discharges to the Merrimack River. In addition to the treatment plant, GLSD owns and operates an interceptor sewer system designed to receive wastewater flow from the member communities. The interceptor sewer system includes five CSO outfalls that discharge a mixture of wastewater and stormwater to the Merrimack and Spicket rivers during wet weather when the capacity of the treatment works and conveyance is exceeded.

GLSD's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit prohibits discharges that cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards. The civil complaint alleged that GLSD failed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act in operation of its wastewater treatment facility and violated its NPDES permit by exceeding limits for fecal coliform bacteria. The discharge outfalls are located in a densely developed area of Lawrence. Shellfish beds downstream from the discharge points also are affected. In a typical year, there are about 14 discharge events, during which the CSO outfalls discharge approximately 112 million gallons of combined sewage.

GLSD also is required by the settlement to submit a post-construction monitoring report to EPA and Massachusetts by March 31, 2009, that evaluates the effectiveness of the increased capacity at reducing discharges from CSO outfalls. Finally, GLSD must submit a revised "Long-Term Control Plan" to EPA and Massachusetts by June 30, 2010.

More information on EPA's enforcement of CSOs in New England can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/cso/index.html.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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