Monthly Archives: January 2017

MCWRS Reflects on 2016 Successes and Kicks off 2017 with a Bang!

MCWRS wishes to thank all our members and partner organizations for their continued support in 2016. As we launch 2017, we’re taking a look back at last year’s accomplishments.

We fought EPA on the MA MS4 Permit. After EPA issued the Final Permit in April, MCWRS rallied  communities and jointly filed a Petition for Review of the Final Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer General Permit (MS4). The appeal was filed with the Town of Franklin in the First Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Boston. Briefing motions were filed in November and the Court is expected to set a briefing schedule soon. For more information, please visit our website.

We continued to advocate for MassDEP’s management of the NPDES program. In April, Governor Baker filed legislation for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to take over the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1. MCWRS President and Chairman, Phil Guerin, provided testimony at the hearing on this bill in May and we submitted a comment letter in June. MCWRS will continue to advocate for this transfer of authority and urge the Governor to refile the legislation this session.

We launched our new visual identity. At the start of 2016, we presented a new look which reflects who we are as an organization and our growing role as the voice for environmental, social, and fiscal responsibility. Our branding was first revealed at the MA Municipal Association (MMA) Trade Show and it helped our materials stand out at the 2016 Symposium.

We expanded our educational opportunities. The Coalition continued to host free workshops in conjunction with our Board meetings. In March, participants heard an update on biosolids disposal regulations and learned about phosphorus removal technologies and capabilities. The June workshop focused on drinking water and featured a presentation on MassDEP’s Assistance Program for Lead in School Drinking Water, as well as an overview of emerging contaminants. Stay tuned for more workshops in 2017!

We had our largest Annual Symposium to date. The Coalition’s 7th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium in May was a major success! The event attracted over 115 participants and featured many prominent speakers, including a keynote address from Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and presentations by representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). At the Symposium, MCWRS presented the 2016 Joseph J. Superneau Leadership Award to Ronald Labelle, former Commissioner of the Department of Public Infrastructure for the City of New Bedford who retired in 2016.

We welcomed new members. We welcomed new members in 2016 who joined for the fiscal year 2017, including the City of Melrose, and the towns of Leominster, Pepperell, and Wilbraham. We’re only halfway through the fiscal year, so there’s still time for you to join!

Our Board welcomed a new director and a new VP. The MCWRS Board of Directors welcomed Tom Holder, now the Director of Public Works in Wayland. President and Chairman Phil Guerin, Treasurer Cheri Cousens, and Secretary Bob Ward were reelected to their positions. Vonnie Reis was elected as the Executive Vice President and Vice Chair.

We continued to track important water resources policies, regulations, and issues. From EPA’s nitrogen reduction strategy for the Long Island Sound to MassDEP’s guidelines for performing infiltration/inflow (I/I) analyses, MCWRS continues to alert our members of interesting events, educational opportunities, regulatory hearings, and updates that matter to them.

We’re gearing up for another great year. The Coalition looks forward to more events and continued progress in 2017. Mark your calendar for the 8th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on May 17 at the Marriott Courtyard Boston Marlborough.

Western MA Communities Form Compact for Nitrogen Trading

Through the Commonwealth’s Community Compact Cabinet, nine communities in Western Massachusetts have joined together to create a regional approach to wastewater and stormwater management. The Connecticut River communities of Agawam, Chicopee, Granby, Hadley, Ludlow, Northampton, Southwick, Springfield, and West Springfield, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), will receive $111,550 from the Efficiency and Regionalization Grant Program to fund their project. The project aims to design a framework for nitrogen trading and to address stormwater requirements regionally, rather than each community independently.

Typically, credits are “determined by the difference between the discharge limit and the actual discharge over a set period” (The Environmental Trading Network). Nitrogen trading allows wastewater treatment facilities to buy and sell credits with other facilities to discharge nitrogen. This would allow a facility to purchase necessary credits if it is unable to meet its permit’s nitrogen limits without building additional infrastructure. PVPC’s Principal Environmental Planner, Patty Gambarini, explained that “some wastewater treatment plants have very small land area and the cost of expanding their facility to do this higher degree of treatment for nitrogen could be very expensive, whereas some wastewater treatment plants have more space and could do updates to treat to even to a higher degree and treat [its wastewater] with those who would like to buy credits” (The Reminder). Working collectively will allow the communities to pool their resources and staff to address water quality in the Connecticut River watershed more efficiently and adequately.

As previously reported, Massachusetts communities along the Connecticut River are facing more stringent National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particularly for nitrogen limits. These stricter regulations are tied to water quality issues, not only in Massachusetts, but also in the Long Island Sound watershed in Connecticut and New York. EPA is studying eutrophication in the Long Island Sound and is developing a Nitrogen Reduction Strategy to improve dissolved oxygen levels in the open waters. While communities bordering the Sound are collaborating to address this issue, little effort has been made to reach out to these upstream communities in Massachusetts.

MCWRS applauds the Connecticut River communities for collaborating on this initiative to address a common struggle in the most efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable manner. We are pleased that the Baker-Polito Administration continues to expand funding opportunities and cooperative programs that help tackle water resources issues. Attend our 8th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on May 17 to hear a panel discussion on nitrogen trading with a representative from Connecticut’s successful program. Invited speakers may also include a representative from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

EPA Hosts LIS Nitrogen Reduction Strategy Webinar

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its contractor, Tetra Tech, hosted a webinar about the Long Island Sound Study and its progress on the Nitrogen Reduction Strategy on December 19, 2016. The Nitrogen Reduction Strategy was created to meet a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to help alleviate hypoxia caused by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the open waters of the Sound. Tetra Tech will use existing hydrodynamic models and “good data” from existing studies to develop nitrogen thresholds and loads for the Sound, and allocation options (Mike Paul, Tetra Tech). The data is sourced from various universities, watershed groups, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and can date back to the 1970s. There does not appear to be a commitment to a new comprehensive sampling program, and how historical data will be screened to determine its accuracy and usefulness is not clear. Utilizing older data, from a multitude of sources, with inconsistent and non-uniform collection techniques as the foundation for science-based rulemaking does not make sense.

EPA repeatedly emphasized that transparency is critical in this process and the importance of collaborating with neighboring states and partners. However, EPA failed to truly embrace the public process, noting that it does not intend to do extensive outreach to the communities in neighboring states affected by the Strategy. Instead, it hopes that state agencies will reach out to the communities, and that other entities will periodically “check in” on the website for program updates. An EPA representative explicitly stated that the Strategy would not be open to public comment because they did not want to “be overwhelmed by having to respond to each comment.” EPA and Tetra Tech said comments may be accepted through an online form for certain technical documents, but that they are not required to respond to them, because it is not a rulemaking process. According to an EPA representative, a public meeting was held in Massachusetts explaining the Study and Strategy in May and that periodic webinars would inform stakeholders on progress. The level of outreach EPA intends to do to notify communities of the webinars is unclear. So far, for the most part, the process has been under the radar.

Becky Weidman of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is one of the only Massachusetts representatives on any of the 12 different advising committees. The Science and Technical Advisory Committee guiding the Study and developing the criteria is made up of a variety of universities, colleges, environmental groups, and government agencies from Connecticut and New York. Massachusetts municipalities and utilities have no significant representation on any committees. MCWRS acknowledges EPA’s efforts to inform the public and focus efforts on LIS communities. However, Massachusetts communities should also be actively and directly involved in the planning process, since they will ultimately be issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits reflecting the results of the study. Retrofitting wastewater treatment plants to meet stringent nitrogen limits can exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. When science-based studies are utilized to develop criteria for revised TMDLs and for setting nutrient limits in NPDES permits, it sounds like rulemaking, which requires a prescribed public comment period and process. ‘Hoping’ that State partners will update permittees and communities about the Study is disingenuous and subverts the spirit of the rulemaking process. Not surprisingly, the webinar reemphasized a well-known issue in the tenuous relationship between EPA and municipalities/utilities; EPA touts public involvement, working with communities, and relying on ‘good’ science, but often fails to put its words into action.