UPDATED Dec. 18:  Alewife August 2023The path near Alewife Brook was flooded with polluted water after the Aug. 8 rain./David Stoff photoThe Select Board is supporting House Bill 886, a measure addressing the problem of combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

In a 3-1-1 vote, the board Dec. 4 directed Select Board Vice Chair John Hurd and Town Counsel Michael Cunningham to write a letter of support and send it to the state’s Joint Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources, with copies to go to the Senate president, House speaker, Arlington’s delegation and Gov. Maura Healey.

The bill states that, “Beginning on January 1, 2035, in Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) sewer service areas . . . there shall be no untreated Combined Sewer Overflow in any 25-year 24-hour storm event or smaller storm event.” Save the Alewife Brook members Gene Benson and David Stoff drafted the bill. State Reps. David Rogers, D-North Cambridge/Arlington, and Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, filed it. State Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington/West Medford, is among eight cosponsors.

Asked about the 2035 deadline, Stoff wrote Dec. 15 to YourArlington that the Department of Environmental Protection "has to draft regulations pursuant to the Act. MWRA needs to incorporate the requirements into their Long Term CSO Control Plans. Ten years is a reasonable period of time to make this change."

He added that 10 years is also two permit cycles for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, so that these changes can be incorporated as state requirements into the Clean Water Act permits administered by EPA.

Save the Alewife Brook founder Kristin Anderson quoted Benson: "'A 10-year timeframe is an appropriate length of time to research and design the project(s) needed to be in compliance, get all the necessary permits and build the project(s).'”

'Addresses issue head-on'

“We are extremely appreciative they filed this legislation, which addresses the CSO pollution problem head-on,” said Anderson, of Arlington. 

If passed, the bill would require either CSO treatment or a higher level of CSO control – what the MWRA refers to as "economically achievable virtual elimination." This would affect all 40 CSOs in the MWRA system that currently have no treatment, including six in the small, flood-prone Alewife Brook, she said.

“This legislation is necessary because 38 years after the Legislature created the MWRA to end the dumping of sewage and sludge into Boston Harbor, and 25 years after the Deer Island treatment plant started treating the region’s sewage and Boston Harbor pollution, dumping of untreated sewage continues. In 2021, one billion gallons of CSO sewage was discharged,” said Anderson.

“Alewife Brook is treated very unfairly, but this is a regional problem, and Boston must do better. The MWRA has made it clear that it has no intention of doing anything beyond the bare minimum as required by law.

"This legislation is necessary and essential to ensure that the CSO entities do more than is minimally required by federal and state requirements for CSO control. Now is the time for the Legislature to act, and together we can address the unfinished business of the Boston Harbor cleanup,” added Anderson.

To see all the supporting documentation, including the bill’s specific language and the slide-show presentation made at the Select Board meeting, click here >> 

Board divided on vote

The board approved the letter supporting the legislation in a 3-1-1 vote. Hurd, along with board members Diane Mahon and Steve DeCourcey, voted yes. Len Diggins abstained; Chair Eric Helmuth recused himself because of his employment with the state. 

“A letter of support can be very persuasive yet doesn’t preclude all the other avenues to get this legislation passed,” said Hurd.

Mahon said that this is a worthwhile endeavor because the MWRA has stated that it is just going to do the minimum when dealing with CSOs -- and the CSO problem is a major issue in East Arlington, with Alewife Brook being essentially at the boundary between Arlington and Cambridge. “This will definitely be looked at very seriously and has a good chance of success,” she said.

DeCourcey mentioned the Aug. 8 overflow, wherein during a relatively short rain storm, a large amount of untreated sewage entered Alewife Brook, which “is unacceptable.”

Diggins, although saying he supports a letter from the board, abstained, saying: “There are more effective ways to get support, and I’m willing to work from other angles to see how we can move this along and get it passed." He said he would reach out to Rogers, Garballey and state Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington.

Watch ACMi video of Dec. 4, 2023, meeting:
Nov. 27, 2023: Environmentalists hail $100k to study Alewife Brook overflow problems with eye toward solution


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. It was updated Dec. 15 to include David Stoff's comments on the timeline needed to achieve the bill's goals, as well as Dec. 18, to add quote from Benson.

This reporting demonstrates your donations at work to support democracy here. YourArlington is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.Your contributions are tax-deductible. Donate here >>