By: Linda Dean Campbell – Sept. 2019
In July, the state’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture voted to move forward legislation I filed with Sen. Pat Jehlen and Rep. Denise Provost that would require public notification of sewage discharges into rivers like the Merrimack. This is the first step the bill must pass to become law. The bill’s advancement this early in the legislative session is a good sign indicating strong interest among lawmakers and Committee leadership.
The legislation requires sewage system operators to send out a public advisory within 2 hours of a sewage discharge and every 8 hours thereafter until the discharge ends. A final advisory would be required within 2 hours of the conclusion of the discharge.
The advisories would be made available online; sent via email or text message to subscribed members of the public; submitted to the 2 largest local news organizations; and distributed to local boards of health, municipal officials, and relevant state departments. This will ensure everyone knows when to take precautions to avoid contact with contaminated waters.
Sewage discharges often occur during heavy storms in communities with combined wastewater and storm water drainage systems. When storm water overwhelms the system, overflow channels carry excess rain and sewage directly into nearby waterways. The resulting discharges, known as combined sewer overflows or CSOs, endanger public health and disturb local ecosystems. In 2018, over 3 billion gallons of untreated sewage were spilled into Massachusetts waterways. With climate change bringing more extreme storms, this problem will only get worse.
CSOs will require significant financial investment and regional cooperation to fix, as they are a nationwide issue requiring costly infrastructure replacement. It is encouraging that sewage system operators are already taking action on the issue, and that Congresswoman Lori Trahan has made water infrastructure upgrades a priority of hers. In the meantime, notifying the public of CSOs is critical to protect public health.
In addition to requiring public advisories, the bill directs sewage system operators to install metering equipment to detect and measure CSOs. Operators would also need to install signs at overflow locations and public access points to rivers, such as boat ramps and swimming areas, to inform the public of the health risks of CSOs and provide instructions on how to subscribe for the advisories.
The legislation has now been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, where it will undergo further analysis as it awaits a vote in the House. I will continue to push for this legislation, which has the support of over 80 lawmakers and is so important to residents of the Merrimack Valley, who deserve to know when the Merrimack River is unsafe for recreation.
TRIP DOWN THE MERRIMACK
Thanks to my fellow Merrimack River Voyagers for an amazing trip down the mighty and beautiful Merrimack River to Plum Island.
Our purpose was to highlight the beauty of this river and to encourage residents to enjoy the recreational opportunities available! Our purpose was also to highlight that now is the time for government to renew efforts to keep the river clean and safe for use as a source of drinking water and recreation. Special thanks to President Lane Glenn of Northern Essex Community College and Dougan Sherwood, President of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce for their role in organizing the expedition!
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and serves as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380. ◊