On Jan. 21, the Baker-Polito administration announced final requirements and procedures for notifying the public of sewage discharges and overflows into surface waters of the Commonwealth.

The final regulations require permit holders to issue notifications for combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows that discharge through a wastewater outfall, and any discharge of partially treated wastewater, including blended wastewater. Advocates applauded the Department of Environmental Protection for including “blended sewage” overflows (a combination of partially-treated and treated sewage) in the final regulations.

The regulations require that notifications 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 that notifications be sent to the two largest news organizations that report on local news in the area and be published on permittees’ websites, and they require municipal boards of health or health departments to issue public health warnings and post signage under certain circumstances.

Follow-up reporting to MassDEP will be required monthly. Permittees with combined sewer overflows will also be required to maintain signage at public access points affected by CSO discharges.

After releasing draft regulations in October, the MassDEP held two public hearings and solicited public comments, which it received from a range of watershed advocacy organizations, municipal wastewater operators, and municipal health officials.

In particular, advocates expressed concerns that the draft regulations would have exempted “blended sewage” from notification requirements. The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance said, “This carve-out was clearly contrary” to the intent of the combined sewer overflow law enacted in January 2021, and “would have allowed most discharges to occur without full notification.”

In announcing the final regulations, the administration emphasized the importance of investing in infrastructure improvements to wastewater systems to eliminate discharges of untreated sewage in the long term.

“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 Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “With these new regulations, public awareness will be further raised as we work with our local partners to address infrastructure improvements.”

For more information about sanitary sewer systems, combined sewer overflows, and the final CSO regulations, visit www.mass.gov/guides/sanitary-sewer-systems-combined-sewer-overflows.

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