New regulations requiring public notification of sewage discharges into waterbodies

The Baker-Polito Administration announced final regulations establishing rules and procedures requiring permittees to notify the public of untreated or partially treated wastewater, including discharges caused by weather events, into the Commonwealth’s surface waters. Discharges of this nature can have negative health impacts and these new rules will ensure that the public has the most up-to-date information on water quality.

“Our Administration continues to take significant steps to implement these new public notification regulations to ensure both greater transparency and awareness of when discharges into local waterbodies occur,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Importantly, Massachusetts residents will now know in a timely fashion when water quality is impacted and potentially unsafe to use, providing the Commonwealth with an important tool to protect public health.”

“With aging infrastructure, discharges of untreated and partially treated sewage into the Commonwealth’s waterways continues to be a significant challenge for many of the state’s cities and towns,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “With these new regulations, public awareness will be further raised as we work with our local partners to address infrastructure improvements.”

Notifications must be issued within two hours of the discovery of the discharge to specific local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as to any individual who has subscribed to receive such notifications. The regulations also require notifications to be sent to the two largest news organizations that report on local news in nearby communities and be published on permittees’ websites. Follow-up reporting to MassDEP will be required monthly. Permittees with combined sewer overflows (CSOs) will also be required to maintain signage at public access points affected by CSO discharges. Furthermore, the regulations will also require municipal boards of health or health departments to issue public health warnings and post signage under certain circumstances.

“With the promulgation of these regulations, the Baker-Polito Administration is seeking to ensure the public will receive timely information related to pollution entering waterbodies,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “We appreciate the contributions of stakeholders who have advocated for the law and those who provided valuable input for the development of the regulations.”

“We are committed to protecting and improving Massachusetts’ water quality,” said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “While we recognize there is more work to be done to achieve this goal, these regulations serve an important purpose of informing the public about potentially unsafe conditions while we work toward eliminating these risks for the future.”

MassDEP kicked off the regulation development process with stakeholder meetings in April 2021. The draft regulations went out for public comment in early October 2021, with two public hearings held in late October. The final regulations benefitted from extensive public comments from watershed advocacy organizations, municipal wastewater officials, and municipal health officials. For more information about the sewer discharge regulations, please visit MassDEP’s website.

“These regulations are the next step to protect people from sewage in rivers,” said State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville). “Thanks to all those who have supported the bill through passage and now in providing comments. And thanks to MassDEP for listening and taking a comprehensive approach to public notification. I hope that increased awareness will encourage investment in our water infrastructure so we can get rid of sewage overflows.”

“I commend MassDEP for their collaboration in crafting these regulations to implement the Legislature’s sewage discharge notification law and for their diligent work to carry out the Legislature’s vision. I am very much looking forward to continuing this close collaboration,” said State Representative Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen), the lead House sponsor of this legislation. “My thanks also to the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and the many environmental organizations for their continuous advocacy. Communities across the Commonwealth will be safer and healthier because of this law and these regulations, and we are already collaborating on the next steps to upgrade our infrastructure.”

MassDEP’s mission is to protect and enhance the Commonwealth’s natural resources – air, water and land – to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all people, and a clean and safe environment for future generations. In carrying out this mission, MassDEP commits to address and advance environmental justice and equity for all people of the Commonwealth, provide meaningful, inclusive opportunities for people to participate in agency decisions that affect their lives and ensure a diverse workforce that reflects the communities served by the agency.

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