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July 16, 2001

MWRA Hails U.S. Court of Appeals Decision on Water Treatment Plant Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit today unanimously affirmed a federal district court ruling supporting MWRA’s program for drinking water treatment in the metro Boston area.

In May 2000, Federal District Court Judge Richard Stearns ruled against the EPA’s assertion that MWRA was out of compliance with federal drinking water quality rules and was required to build a very costly filtration system. After a 12 week trial Judge Stearns ruled that MWRA was already implementing a comprehensive program to protect public health and ensure high quality drinking water. MWRA is now 20% complete with building a new $342 million water treatment plant in Marlborough that uses the powerful disinfectant ozone to replace chlorine. The new treatment facility, along with the new MetroWest Water Supply Tunnel, will be online by early 2004. Filtration facilities would have cost an additional $180 million to add to the plant.

"This decision shows our system of watershed management is a valid method to protect the drinking water for millions of Massachusetts residents," said Bob Durand, Secretary of Environmental Affairs and MWRA board chairman. "This decision also saves the ratepayers millions of dollars that would have been spent needlessly."

"We are gratified that the Federal Appeals Court has agreed with Judge Stearns’ careful decision that MWRA meets the strictest rules for water quality and that our $1.7 billion program to overhaul water treatment, tunnels, storage tanks, and community pipelines provides the best way to protect the public health of the 2.2 million people on MWRA water supply," said MWRA Executive Director Federick Laskey. "The decision clearly affirms MWRA’s belief that a carefully developed site-specific program based on local circumstances yields the best solution and avoids an unnecessary expense of $180 million by the ratepayers" said Laskey.

In concluding the 46 page opinion, the Court of Appeals decision states "In rendering this judgment, the court was careful to shape its decision so as to ensure that the MWRA's drinking water will meet the avoidance-criteria standards that are the EPA's benchmarks for safety. It exercised the flexibility left to it by Congress in the statute, and assumed the responsibility of monitoring the MWRA's compliance in the event that future violations require a reexamination of the decision not to order filtration. In short, the district court used its equitable discretion to appropriate ends: furthering the substantive purposes of the Act."

MWRA’s Integrated Water Supply Improvement Program is a common sense, cost effective, comprehensive program for drinking water improvement.

For Additional Information on the court case:

The full opinion can be found at:

MWRA Summary of case and related documents: