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MWRA Writing Contest Winners 2004-2005
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

First Place Grades 9-12
by Michael Smart, Grade 10
Archbishop Williams High School, Braintree

Gersham Gray, teacher
Mary Lou Sadowski, principal
Jane Funderburk, dean
Meryl Baxter, dean

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Letters for Success

Boston Harbor, once considered a filthy embarrassment to the Commonwealth, has now become a clean-up success story and serves as a model for other cities. Although there are many efforts which must be continued to further this accomplishment, the most important of these can be found in some simple letters. The future of the Boston Harbor cleanup depends upon the elimination of the CSO and the I and I.

"CSO," a three-letter combination that may sound like the latest spin-off to the popular crime drama "CSI," in fact represents a significant threat to Boston Harbor. CSOs, or Combined Sewer Overflows, act as relief points to discharge excess flows upstream from sewage treatment plants into the nearest body of water during times of excess demand. In order for Boston Harbor to remain clean in the future, cities and towns must work in cooperation with the MWRA to K.O. the CSO.

Communities such as Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea and Somerville have combined sewer systems that carry both storm water and sewage together to the MWRA. In periods of heavy rainfall, excess flow from these communities is released through CSOs into Boston Harbor, and the Charles, Mystic and Neponset Rivers.

Although the CSOs prevent sewage overflows into city streets and residents' homes, this untreated wastewater threatens to undo years of laborious clean-up efforts and programs. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has taken significant steps in reducing the number of CSOs currently operational in their service areas. Projects such as the Union Park Detention/Treatment Facility, expected to reach completion in 2006, and the ongoing Fort Point Channel Project will greatly reduce the amount of untreated discharge that enters Boston Harbor.

The term "I and I" may sound like the latest technological companion to the iPod, although it actually represents the dreaded inflow and infiltration. In my own community of Weymouth, I have witnessed the effects of inflow and infiltration and the environmentally destructive aftermath of sewage overflows.

Weymouth has had several incidents during periods of heavy rainfall, its system plagued by antiquated and leaking sewer pipes, combined with illegal hookups of residents' sump-pumps, all overtaxing the system. These excess gallons of untreated sewage, which the sewer system is unable to handle, have found their escapes through manhole covers on local streets. When this occurs, the situation is not only unsightly but is a significant health hazard and a serious environmental threat. This water flows into city storm drains, and then enters contributory rivers and streams, and the town's secondary water supply. Weymouth is working to reduce its inflow and infiltration into the system to eliminate future backups. All communities must take a responsible and active approach to eliminating inflow and infiltration into the sewer system.

Joint responsibility between MWRA and the communities which it maintains and serves is vital to furthering the goals of the Boston Harbor cleanup. Residential awareness of the daunting effects of continued pollution of our natural resources is critical to success. When it comes to the CSO, and the I and I, an I.O.U. is not acceptable; all parties must remain fully committed to this effort.

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