Massachusetts Water Resources Authority


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July 12, 2000

Newly Issued Permit Brings Boston Harbor Project Closer to Goal

MWRA welcomed today the final step in regulators’ issuance of the treated wastewater discharge permit for the new Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The federal/state permit was based on years of work to assure that the treated wastewater discharge from the diffusers at the end of the new 9.5 mile outfall tunnel will meet strict environmental standards. The permit also takes unprecedented steps to assure long-term protection of the resources of Massachusetts Bay including fisheries and endangered species.

"The permit’s foundation is years of scientific investigation, carefully evaluated and responded to by citizens who hold sacred the protection of Massachusetts Bay, as well as the restoration of Boston Harbor," said MWRA Executive Director Douglas B. MacDonald. "Everyone agrees with what the permit must prove: that the plant will run well, the outfall will be carefully monitored, and the ecosystem of Massachusetts Bay will be scrupulously protected. We’re ready to meet the permit."

MWRA has actually been meeting many of the specific terms of the new permit for nearly two years while still using the old discharge locations in Boston Harbor. When MWRA completed the second of three batteries of its secondary treatment facilities on Deer Island in 1998, treatment plant operations began to meet permit terms almost all the time. The treatment plant now removes 85% of total suspended solids. Discharges of solids into Boston Harbor have reduced from 165 tons per day in 1988 to 35 tons per day in 1999. When secondary treatment capacity expands soon with the completion of the third battery, the plant will achieve even greater reductions. Pollutant removals at the treatment plant and the outfall location in deep off-shore water will continue to improve the health of the Harbor and Bays. "The reclamation of Boston Harbor is bringing swimmers and boaters back to the harbor. At the same time, the shellfish and fish health and species diversity is made a dramatic comeback" said MacDonald.

Several important steps remain before the outfall tunnel can actually be activated. Tunnel construction was halted last July after a fatal accident involving the removal of diffuser caps at the tunnel’s end. MWRA’s tunnel construction contractor is now at work on a plan to remove the caps as soon as the entire tunnel can be ventilated with an airline connected to one of the 55 discharge "risers" that join the outfall. Workers will then be able to safely remove plugs inside the tunnel and enable operation of the diffusers. The tunnel will transport high quality treated effluent into the 100-foot deep waters of Massachusetts Bay where it will be discharged through 55 diffusers and be quickly dispersed.

The permit contains a Contingency Plan that describes what actions will be taken if monitoring of the bay shows unexpected problems arising from treatment plant discharges. Should impacts occur that are determined to be potentially related to effluent discharges, corrective actions could include addition of specific enhanced treatment technologies and increased pollution prevention and regulation.

The new permit commits MWRA to an extensive program of monitoring the condition of the outfall area and Massachusetts Bay after the outfall becomes operational. "In the Massachusetts Bays system, which includes the Harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and Cape Cod Bay, I think we have developed one of the best environmental monitoring programs not only in the US but in the world." It is the result of intensive public and scientific oversight on a continuing basis, strong leadership at MWRA, and excellent contractors. The monitoring program, contingency plan, and scientific and public oversight processes should be a model for all dischargers into Massachusetts coastal waters," says Dr. Jerry Schubel, President of the New England Aquarium and Chair of the Outfall Monitoring Task Force.

Treatment plant performance reports will soon be available on-line at MWRA’s web site ( "The MWRA is committed to making the plant’s performance record accessible to everyone," said MacDonald. Frequent performance reports for the treatment plant are required and will be submitted to an independent Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel.

In 1999, MWRA appealed the first permit issued for the treatment plant. The appeals focused on peripheral issues not involving the core permit issues hammered out for Massachusetts Bay, Boston Harbor, and performance of the treatment plant. "All of the permit appeals were worked out to the satisfaction of MWRA," according to MacDonald.

"We appreciate the efforts of the scientists, community and environmental groups, ratepayers, and public officials who have worked so hard together in developing the new permit and the extensive monitoring program for Massachusetts Bay," said MacDonald. "There is a remarkable achievement here in the issuance of a permit to which the plant at MWRA will be held accountable for years to come in its environmental protection mission."