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EPA vs. MWRA on the Best Course Forward for MWRA Drinking Water

Status of Appeal
MWRA Hails U.S. Court of Appeals Decision on Water Treatment Plant Case 7.16.01
Full U.S. Court of Appeals Opinion
U.S. EPA's Opening Brief (PDF)
MWRA’s Reply Brief (PDF)
Friend of the Court Brief (PDF)
U.S. EPA's Final Reply Brief (PDF)
PDF files above require free readers available from Adobe Acrobats

The United States has appealed from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns’ June 2, 2000 Final Judgement, (pdf) which denied the Government’s request for an injunction ordering filtration despite a finding that MWRA had violated one of the criteria for remaining unfiltered. The district court found, after trial, that MWRA’s comprehensive approach to water supply improvement, consisting of compliance with the criteria for unfiltered systems, watershed protection, disinfection treatment using ozonation, and pipeline rehabilitation, sufficiently protected public health and that the addition of filtration for MWRA’s system offered no significant benefit. The appeal goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (in Boston). The Appeals Court sits in panels of three judges and will review the decision of the trial judge based on the trial record (the transcript, exhibits and other documents filed with the trial court) and on the written and oral arguments of counsel.

The United States submitted its Opening Brief in the appeal on November 13, 2000. As expected, the Government argues that Judge Stearns had no authority to consider any remedy other than filtration. The issue presented is whether, once the court found a violation of at least one of the filtration "avoidance criteria," the Government was entitled to an injunction ordering MWRA to install filtration. Although the Government says it does not challenge any of the factual findings made by the trial court for purposes of the appeal, it notes disagreement with many of the findings.

MWRA’s Brief was filed on December 14, 2000. MWRA’s position is that the district court had discretion to deny the Government’s request for an injunction. The SDWA does not evidence any congressional intent to deprive courts of their broad remedial discretion, but only directs courts to emphasize public health protection, which the district court did. The district court correctly determined that no injunction was necessary in this case to protect public health, and in fact found that ordering filtration would allocate resources in a manner that would be less protective of public health than the MWRA’s alternative course of action.

Five non-profit and environmental advocates which support protection of water quality through watershed management filed a "Friend of the Court" Brief in support of MWRA’s position. The group consists of Nashua River Watershed Association, Inc., Massachusetts Audubon Society, Inc., Friends of Quabbin, Inc., Water Supply Citizens Advisory Committee, and Rutherford H. Platt. These parties point out that prevention of pollution through watershed protection is a primary treatment technique for protecting public health that is increasingly supported by national policy and regulation and that the public will benefit if the MWRA system remains unfiltered. Moreover, additional consumer protection through future treatment methods is not foreclosed, and MWRA’s water quality monitoring and public health surveillance will provide continuous feedback for determining whether any additional treatment is necessary to protect public health. The Final Reply Brief for the United States, filed on January 12, 2001, (PDF) reiterates the position that under the SDWA an injunction requiring filtration is the only remedy for MWRA’s "permanent noncompliance" since the Surface Water Treatment Rule criteria for avoiding filtration, if not met, "trigger an irrevocable obligation to install filtration."

The Court has scheduled oral argument in the matter for February 8, 2001 at 9:30 a.m. in the Court of Appeals En Banc Court Room in the new Federal Courthouse in Boston. Each side will be given 15 minutes to present legal arguments to the three judge panel. The decision of the panel could come within several months.

Related Documents:

Letter to Interested Parties (PDF)
From MWRA Executive Director Regarding Treatment Technology Court Case  1.21.01

Judge Stearns Rules No Filtration Needed
A strong and clear decision has been issued on the appropriate treatment technology for MWRA's drinking water.    5.9.00

Integrated Water Supply Improvement Program

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