The Department of Environmental Protection has released draft regulations to establish requirements and procedures for notifying the public of sewage discharges and overflows into surface waters of the Commonwealth.

MassDEP was tasked with developing the regulations under legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in mid-January. To help protect public health and the environment, the law requires wastewater operators to notify the public when a sewer system discharges untreated wastewater into a local body of water.

The regulations would require permittees to issue public advisory notifications for the release of certain types of untreated or partially treated wastewater, including discharges that fall into the categories of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewer overflows, and blended wastewater.

Unlike modern systems that keep sewage separate from stormwater, combined sewer systems, many dating back more than a century, combine wastewater and stormwater. High stormwater volumes caused by heavy rain events can overwhelm combined systems, causing them to discharge into rivers.

As of 2018, Massachusetts had 19 CSO permittees responsible for more than 100 separate outfall locations.

The draft regulations include the following:
• Description of types of discharge events requiring public notification
• Requirement that notifications be issued within two hours of their discovery to specific local, state and federal government agencies, as well as to any individual who has subscribed to receive such notifications
• Requirement that notifications be sent to news organizations that report on local news in nearby communities and be published on permittees’ websites
• Requirement that follow-up reporting be provided to MassDEP on a monthly basis
• Requirement that CSO permittees maintain signage at CSO outfall locations
• Requirement that municipal boards of health or health departments issue public health warnings under certain circumstances

In line with its obligations under Executive Order 145, the MassDEP assessed the municipal impact of the proposed regulations. The department stated that it “does not anticipate that the regulation will require municipalities to significantly expand existing services, employ additional personnel, realign organizational structures, or limit discretion exercised by local officials.”

The MassDEP stated, however, that it “anticipates that the requirements of the Act and the regulation will significantly alter administrative and work procedures for municipal entities subject to the new requirements … and that municipalities will need to increase disbursements which are not reimbursed by the federal or state government.”

The MassDEP has scheduled two public hearings on the proposed regulations, on Oct. 27, with an information session preceding each. The department will accept written comments on the draft regulations through Nov. 8 at 5 p.m.

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