Press Release Whitewashes MWRA’s Failure to Protect the Alewife Brook

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Cambridge, and Somerville have done it again, issuing a new press release about “progress” made in the Alewife Brook through their Sewage Pollution Control Plan. There’s been no progress for the Alewife! The untreated sewage pollution in the Alewife Brook has gotten worse, not better. And unless MWRA increases the capacity of its undersized regional sewer system, the problem of dumping untreated sewage into the Alewife will only get worse with climate change.

In their new press release, MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville continue to put forward the bizarre idea that because the Alewife Brook is already polluted, they should not have to stop dumping sewage in it1. The truth is that, over the decades, the brook has become badly polluted because its narrow concrete channel has accumulated more than half a million cubic feet of CSO sediment containing human and industrial waste, including PCBs, PAHs, and heavy metals. The presence of this trapped sediment is one reason why water quality in the Alewife Brook can be awful even during dry periods when the MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville are not dumping untreated sewage there. 

MWRA Unfairly Allows Too Much Untreated Sewage Pollution in Alewife Brook

The Alewife Brook is a tiny waterbody in comparison to the Boston Harbor, and the Charles & Mystic Rivers (which, by the way, MWRA also pollutes with nasty sewage!). Still, at least most of the Harbor and River sewage discharge is treated. 100% of the sewage dumped in the Alewife Brook by MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville is untreated. Compared to the rest of their system, MWRA unfairly allows too much untreated sewage pollution to be dumped into the Alewife Brook.

EPA Provided Guidance to MWRA in 2022

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency has already provided MWRA with guidance. But, according to their new press release, it appears that MWRA is not listening!

EPA recommended that MWRA take responsibility for the Alewife Brook by doing the following:

  • Provide real public participation in the early stages of planning and throughout. 
  • Improve water quality.
  • Implement flood control measures.
  • Dredge and remove the Alewife Brook concrete sewage channel, which currently exacerbates area flooding. 
  • Implement significant gray and green infrastructure work on DCR property, including at Dilboy Park.
  • Create an equitable funding structure so the costs do not fall upon lower income residents who cannot afford it.
  • Examine which MWRA sewer facilities are nearing the end of their life cycle and take advantage of opportunities for expansion of sewer system capacity.
  • Provide major upgrades to the MWRA regional system, including a new pump station, possible expansion or rebuilding of the Caruso Pump Station, the key connection point for the MWRA North System.
  • Consider the Environmental Justice communities along Alewife Brook and protect them from flooding.

MWRA Should Provide Economically Achievable CSO Elimination

If they cannot provide a “25-year level of control”2 of their sewage pollution, MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville should provide CSO treatment for the Alewife. That is the solution set forth in House Bill 886, filed by Representatives Dave Rogers and Adrian Madaro. We are staunch supporters of that legislation. It requires that, within ten years, CSOs must have treatment (which already exists for other water bodies) or stop dumping, except in very large, >25-year storms (as has been engineered elsewhere by MWRA).

MWRA, Please Do Your Job!

It’s time for MWRA to step up and do the job for which it was created. For the Alewife, MWRA needs finally to fulfill its mandated goal of acting for “the preservation and improvement of the health, welfare and living conditions of the citizenry.” Cambridge and Somerville, for their part, need to deliver an ambitious plan to separate their sewers, reduce area flooding, and improve water quality.

  1.  There may be people at MWRA who understand the real situation, but its press release does not show that.
  2.  “25 year level of control” is what MWRA calls “economically achievable CSO elimination”. MWRA provided this level of CSO control to the recreational beaches in Dorchester Bay. See page 5, MWRA CSO Post Construction Compliance Monitoring Program.

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