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Department of Environmental Protection Responses to Comments Received on Proposed Extension to Alewife/Upper Mystic CSO Variance

CSO = Combined Sewer Overflow

The document below was forwarded by email and appears to have been provided by:
Steven G. Lipman, PE
Special Projects Coordinator
Commissioner's Office
One Winter St.
Boston 02108
tel:(617) 292-5698
fax:(617) 292-5696

Department of Environmental Protection
Responses to Comments
Received on Proposed Extension to Alewife/Upper Mystic CSO Variance

May 8, 2002

1. How are MWRA and the Cities of Somerville and Cambridge implementing the Nine Minimum Controls to mitigate existing CSO discharges?

MWRA and the Cities of Cambridge and Somerville have all submitted Reports documenting efforts to comply with the Nine Minimum Controls. These Reports are on file with the permittees, with DEP, and with EPA. These Reports were filed in compliance with the EPA CSO policy by January 1997 and were largely based on EPA Guidance for Nine Minimum Controls (May 1995). Some of the information in these reports is somewhat dated and needs updating. The NPDES permit reissuance will require the permittees to update these reports to note improved conditions and practices.

2. The NMC related to public notice of CSO discharges and their impacts should be expanded significantly, to inform abutters and users of Alewife Brook so that information on activations is being provided in real time.

The public notification done by MWRA and the communities as part of their NMC programs has included: posting of CSO outfalls; submitting NPDES reports and discharge monitoring reports; coordinating with DMF on impacts to shellfish resources; publishing and including on their website water quality information and annual reports from sampling programs; and publishing a CSO newsletter during the CSO planning process. Numerous commenters have suggested more of a real-time notification for impacted parties. DEP will work with the permittees and EPA to explore methods of improved and timely notification. A workplan will be required under the CSO Variance to provide improved public notification on the CSO discharges and potential impacts and will be available for review by the EOEA Watershed Team.

3. What is the status of the enforcement related to the 308 letters which require identification and removal of illegal connections in the Alewife/Mystic River Watershed? Progress has been slow.

Water quality information in the Alewife Brook and Mystic River Basins has indicated that water quality standards are violated even during dry weather periods, which suggests the presence of illegal wastewater connections to separate stormwater drainage systems in the watershed. EPA, at DEP's request, issued Clean Water Act Section 308 information requests ("308" letters) to Medford, Somerville, Belmont, Arlington, Cambridge, Winchester, and MDC. EPA required each community to survey their stormwater outfalls during dry weather and sample those outfalls found to have flow. Based on the results of this effort, DEP issued Notices of Noncompliance (NONs) to each community requiring the communities to initiate programs to identify and remove illegal wastewater connections to their storm drain systems where observations and sampling were indicative of wastewater pollution. While a number of the communities have made significant progress in this regard, much work still remains.

DEP has recently met with staff from the Mystic River Watershed Association to go over the water quality information which has been gathered in the watershed which may be helpful in identifying further sources of pollution. DEP will use this information and other water quality data to continue to refine these endeavors and target the worst suspected pollutant sources. DEP will update the EOEA Watershed Team at the quarterly meetings on the progress of the work. Illegal connection removal plans and water quality information will be kept on file at the DEP Northeast Regional Office for public review.

4. DEP should create a technical advisory group, including the Mystic River Watershed Association, MWRA, City of Cambridge, and DEP to review the work moving forward under the Variance and to support pollution abatement programs.

DEP will utilize the existing EOEA Mystic River Watershed Team for stakeholder review of documents related to the CSO Variance. The EOEA team includes members from the Mystic River Watershed Association and other watershed advocacy groups as well as other state agencies and interested parties. DEP will provide information on the required CSO Variance submittals at watershed team meetings and by direct mailing, as appropriate, and will consider comments received from team members in moving forward with CSO abatement work.

The most critical submittal, the CSO Reassessment Report, will be subject to public environmental review through the MEPA office. Numerous public meetings will also be conducted by MWRA during the development of the Report to update interested parties on the status of the work and to invite public comments and questions.

5. How will the Phase II NPDES Stormwater permitting program factor in to decisions on CSOs and the Variance?

All of the communities in the Alewife Brook and Mystic watersheds will be subject to the Phase II NPDES Stormwater Permit Program. Communities are required to submit a Permit Application by March 10, 2003. Permits will require that communities implement six Best Management Practices (BMPs) and document stormwater management efforts as set forth in the EPA regulation. EPA is expected to have an outreach program in 2002 to provide further detail on the level of stormwater controls which will be necessary to meet performance standards associated with the six BMPs. DEP recognizes stormwater to be a separate (from CSOs) but critical pollutant source in the Mystic/Alewife Basin. Information on existing stormwater and CSO pollutant loads being gathered will help all interested parties to understand the relative impacts of these discharges and the corresponding benefits of CSO and stormwater pollution abatement efforts. However, the level of CSO control provided must meet the regulatory standards, and reflect the maximum pollution reduction benefits reasonably attainable, up to and including elimination where elimination is affordable and feasible.

6. When will NPDES permits for MWRA and the Cities of Cambridge and Somerville be reissued?

NPDES permits will be reissued in 2002, with a target date of July 1. A Draft of each permit will be public noticed with an opportunity for public comments. The NPDES permits are issued jointly from EPA and DEP. These permits require that dischargers comply with the water quality standard. Where a CSO Variance has been issued, the Variance and any conditions imposed represent the standard during the timeframe of the Variance.

7. Will programs to target infiltration/inflow removal be implemented as part of a CSO abatement strategy?

MWRA completed a Report pursuant to the CSO Variance which considered the benefits of aggressive, system-wide infiltration/inflow (I/I) removal programs. Their conclusion was that there would be negligible benefit in CSO reduction from aggressive I/I programs. DEP has not concurred with this conclusion to date. The extent of achievable long-term I/I reduction is the subject of national debate; EPA is preparing to issue regulations which will have a substantial impact on operation and management of sewer systems. DEP recognizes the general environmental and sewer system benefits from I/I reduction work and the specific benefits of targeted I/I remediation actions.

In March 2001 the MWRA Regional I/I Task Force, comprised of MWRA, its 43 member communities, four Watershed Associations (including the MyRWA), DEP, EPA, and other interested parties issued its Final Report titled: "A Guidance Document For MWRA Member Sewer Communities and Regional Stakeholders" which includes a series of Goals and Implementation Strategies providing for a comprehensive regional approach to address I/I, Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO)/Backups, and Operation, Maintenance & Rehabilitation (OM&R). MWRA subsequently filed on June 30, 2001 with EPA and DEP its NPDES Permit-required plans for addressing these same issues, using the Task Force Report as a guide. DEP has provided MWRA with detailed comments on these filings and EPA is expected to provide comments later this month. MWRA will respond in writing to DEP/EPA comments and then a process of discussions/negotiations will take place, the intent being to agree upon a final plan which will become an enforceable element of the NPDES Permit.

DEP is pressing forward for formal development/implementation of a comprehensive regional SSO Strategy, I/I control and OM&R approach. DEP strongly believes that a regional I/I Control Program (specifically including redirection/removal of private sources of inflow) in conjunction with a comprehensive OM&R Program must be expeditiously implemented by MWRA and its 43 member communities. As part of a condition of an Administrative Consent Order between DEP and MWRA to construct the Braintree-Weymouth Relief Facilities and as required in the MWRA NPDES Permit, staff from DEP and MWRA have recently initiated negotiations to develop an I/I Interagency Agreement (would expand upon a prior DEP/MWRA 1991 I/I MOU).

In accordance with a recommendation of the Task Force Report, DEP is developing comprehensive Statewide OM&R Guidelines. In order to incorporate the best information into these guidelines it was decided to utilize the expertise of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC). This activity is anticipated to extend through 2002. As part of the outreach activities for this activity, DEP will be organizing a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) which will include many of the parties that served on the I/I Task Force.

These collective strategies will also serve to reduce system surcharging which contributes to CSO discharges and therefore should have overall benefits to the CSO abatement program. The sewer separation work included in the MWRA CSO abatement plan in Cambridge will also serve to remove a significant volume of public (stormwater) inflow into the sewer system as well.

8. Flooding is a major issue in the Alewife Brook subwatershed. How will further CSO planning and the recommended CSO control plan address flooding issues?

DEP recognizes that flooding is a critical issue in the Mystic/Alewife Watershed. The CSO abatement work (i.e. sewer separation work) being designed in the City of Cambridge must adequately mitigate flow and pollutant loads from new stormwater flows generated as part of that project. The Wetlands Protection Act and associated regulations require that there be no increase in the horizontal or vertical extent of flooding which will result from this project, unless a Variance to such regulations is supported and issued. The City of Cambridge is currently developing an advanced hydraulic model to better assess potential impacts from the project to demonstrate that these regulatory standards will be met.

DEP also supports efforts to alleviate flooding problems in the Alewife/Mystic watershed and staff recently attended the Flood Alert public meeting in Belmont, where representatives of MyRWA and three communities in the Alewife Brook watershed discussed flood control and pollution abatement programs. DEP is committed to work (within the scope of our regulatory authority) with the communities, the watershed team, and relevant state and federal agencies in supporting these efforts. In that regard, DEP is continuing to participate in workgroups initiated by State Senator Shannon and State Representative Paulson.

9. Flood storage for the Cambridge sewer separation project will only serve as a temporary fix since continued development will result in increases to runoff in the Basin.

Historical development patterns have undoubtedly exacerbated flood conditions in the Alewife and Mystic River watersheds. DEP's Stormwater Policy and associated stormwater performance standards provide a regulatory framework for managing impacts from most new development projects (some smaller development projects are exempt). Redevelopment projects must also meet these criteria to the maximum extent practicable. The criteria are enforced by local conservation commissions and the DEP Wetlands Division staff, and include:

DEP's Policy does not respond to the effects of past planning and development practices in each community and the existing flood control challenges which have resulted. Flood management and hydrology studies now underway in the watershed should help the communities and agencies understand the best strategies to address the existing flooding problems and identify projects to mitigate flood impacts.

10. The state should review runoff reduction strategies not only related to the CSO abatement efforts but throughout the watershed, since flooding concerns and associated public health impacts are severe.

DEP will continue enforcement of the Stormwater Policy, the "308" initiative to eliminate illegal connections, and will review each community's Phase II stormwater management plan when available. DEP will also participate in group efforts to develop strategies and promote projects to relieve flooding in these watersheds. DEP concurs that flooding and pollution abatement are watershed issues and need to be considered from this perspective; only through participation and commitments from all stakeholders will these problems be successfully managed.

11. The Variance extension should include a defined scope of work which MWRA will include in the Final CSO Reassessment Report.

DEP will require MWRA to submit a draft scope of work for the CSO Reassessment Report. The draft scope will be public information and will be available for review at the DEP office. Members of the EOEA watershed team and other interested parties will have the opportunity for review and comment.

12. A better description of the operation of MWR 003 is warranted. Quarterly reports on the frequency, duration, and volume of overflow should be made available and metering should be installed.

DEP agrees that MWRA should provide additional detail on the operation of MWR 003 and report on the frequency, duration, and volume of CSO discharge at this location. DEP will be requiring a flow estimation workplan for all remaining Alewife/Mystic CSO outfalls that is expected to include a combination of metering and modeling to estimate CSO flows. Again, this plan will be available for review at the DEP office and the watershed team will have the opportunity for review and comment.

13. MWRA should be required to install and place meters in each connection to the Alewife Brook sewers to adequately characterize flows.

MWRA utilized 16 flow meters installed throughout the Mystic/Alewife Watershed to support their enhanced modeling effort, and included flow meters to characterize boundary conditions, runoff, and wastewater in the planning area. The locations of the meters and a discussion of the data are included in the April 2001 NPC document. This level of metering is consistent with that normally associated with CSO planning to support the sewer system modeling and produce reasonable calibration results. If there are specific areas in the system where concerns exist about the model, stakeholders can contribute to this information during the planning process which will lead up to the submittal of the CSO Reassessment Report.

14. The stormdrains selected for sampling to characterize stormwater pollutant loads were among those with suspected illegal connections. DEP should require sampling of more representative, "cleaner", stormwater, such as at Arlington's Broadway/Mass Ave. drains and road drains along Route 2.

The stormdrains selected for stormwater monitoring were based on a number of factors, including volume of the discharge and types of land use. Some, but not all, of these locations were identified in the 308 programs. In these cases, the communities have taken steps to mitigate or eliminate wastewater sources. However, the limited stormwater sampling has shown that there appear to be sanitary influences at a number of these outfalls. As per the suggestion, DEP will work with MWRA, the communities, EPA, and Mystic River Watershed Association to determine the most representative outfalls of stormwater for characterization of stormwater loads within the watershed and to incorporate into the CSO Variance in subsequent sampling runs.

As the intent of this sampling work is to gather data to help characterize stormwater pollutant loads in the Alewife/Mystic watershed, DEP will consider wet weather data from other sources, such as the Mystic River Watershed Association, in determining an appropriate range for estimating pollutant concentrations in stormwater in the watershed.

15. The characterization of pollutant concentration from combined sewage should be done based on sampling within the Alewife/Mystic watershed.

MWRA CSO sampling, done in 1994, included three sampling locations in Somerville - SOM 003, SOM 009, and Somerville Marginal Influent. Outfall SOM 003 discharged (it has since been eliminated) to Alewife Brook. A total of 221 samples of untreated CSO were used to develop the average pollutant loads, which is a significant number of samples and provides a reasonable basis for estimating CSO pollutant loads. However, as there were no samples collected from the facilities which presently discharge CSO to Alewife Brook, DEP will require two CSO locations to be sampled as part of the semiannual stormwater sampling program.

16. Quarterly reports on the frequency of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) should also be available to the public.

DEP staff have developed updated/expanded SSO and Backup Notification Forms to be used as part of the State's e-gov initiative, whereby DEP will be developing an electronic SSO/Backup database. Information from the database will be placed on GIS maps and made available. This will allow MWRA, the municipalities and other interested parties to identify problem areas in the regional sewer system. This system is not expected to become functional until at least mid-2003. DEP is reviewing internally whether it would be possible to expedite a portion of this effort. Until such time, communities are still required to report SSO events to the DEP and these records will be kept on file, and available for public review.

17. Final regulatory determinations on CSOs should consider not only MWRA sampling, but also sampling undertaken by the Mystic River Watershed Association pursuant to its approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP).

DEP will use MyRWA sampling results where such results have been gathered pursuant to an approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP), and will generally consider all credible water quality data in refining the scope and timeframe for CSO and stormwater pollution abatement efforts. DEP recognizes that these sampling programs, which also includes significant historical water quality data gathered by MWRA, are important to prioritizing work in the watershed.

18. DEP should make data gathered under the Variance and related information available via the Internet.

MWRA provides much water quality data on their website. DEP does not currently have the resources to develop and manage putting the data on the website. DEP will make available to the public data and information gathered pursuant to the Variance requirements. DEP will also participate in Watershed Team Meetings and disseminate information in this forum as well.

19. DEP needs to consider the public health impacts of the CSO discharges, which result in untreated sewage reaching residential homes.

DEP's CSO Policy requires permittees to eliminate CSO discharges wherever feasible. Where CSOs will not be eliminated, CSO discharges shall be minimized and their impacts must be mitigated to the maximum extent feasible. Accordingly, MWRA must evaluate alternatives to eliminate CSOs in their CSO Reassessment Report, and where CSOs are not eliminated, consider measures to mitigate the impacts of any remaining discharges.

Officials at the Department of Public Health (DPH) have contacted DEP and discussed the proposed CSO abatement projects and the overall CSO planning effort. DEP will consider DPH comments on the CSO Reassessment Plan prior to making final determinations on CSO controls.

20. DEP should address the substantial delays in implementing CSO controls in Alewife Brook, which were required to move forward under an aggressive schedule established in the Court Order.

DEP acknowledges that there has been substantial delay in implementation of sewer separation projects, largely based on the incomplete characterization of the combined sewer system and on the many complex issues related to the Cambridge sewer separation projects. MWRA is presently out of compliance with a federal court schedule requiring this CSO abatement work. The Court Parties have been advised on the status of the work and ultimately the federal judge, with input from the Court Parties, will determine the new schedule and any remedies to be imposed.

As has been our practice throughout the CSO abatement program, DEP will work with EPA and the Court Parties to put in place an enforcement schedule which expeditiously addresses CSO discharges and their impacts, within the technical constraints identified for each abatement project.

21. The Variance extension should include the requirement for developing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) analysis.

The requirement for development of TMDLs rests with the state water quality standards authority, in this case, DEP. TMDLs are required wherever receiving waters have been determined to be impaired and formally listed on the state CWA section 303D listing. DEP is moving forward with TMDL development. The Alewife Brook and Mystic River watersheds are among the 1500 segments for which TMDLs must be produced. The level of water quality information being gathered by MWRA in the CSO planning effort and pursuant to the CSO Variance is commensurate with the level of information often used to support TMDL analyses. This information should be helpful in completing a TMDL for the Alewife and Mystic River segments, similar to TMDLs completed in other watersheds.

22. The CSO Variance should not be extended and the B classification for the Alewife/Mystic reinstated.

CSO elimination and attainment of the Class B standard remain the goal for Alewife Brook and the Mystic River. However, key information on the feasibility of higher levels of CSO control will not be known until completion and review of the CSO Reassessment Plan, which will also rely on the implementability of the Cambridge sewer separation work. The use of a CSO Variance in this case comports with the July 2001 EPA Guidance on Coordinating CSO Long-Term Planning with Water Quality Standard Reviews.

23. DEP should carefully scrutinize any pollution trading strategy and should ensure that all sewage discharges to Alewife Brook are eliminated.

Any pollution trading strategies must be conclusively demonstrated to result in water quality benefits greater than those possible through CSO mitigation alone. The prevailing regulatory requirements for CSO abatement still must be satisfied.

24. More funding resources need to be committed to stormwater management and I/I reduction.

DEP has a number of grant programs which fund stormwater management and non-point source pollution abatement. These include the CWA section 319, 104B, and 604B grant programs. The State Revolving Fund (SRF) program also funds water pollution abatement projects on a larger scale, including I/I abatement projects. All of these programs are competitive programs where projects are rated statewide to determine priorities. There are many other agencies which offer grants as well and DEP can provide to stakeholders a matrix recently developed which describes a great many of these programs. One very much utilized and effective program has been the MWRA's grant/loan program to member communities to fund projects to identify and eliminate I/I in community sewer systems.

25. The siting of a detention basin on MDC parkland is an inappropriate use of parkland and should not be included as part of the sewer separation project.

The recommendation to site the detention basin in the Alewife Reservation was made only after a detailed assessment of the alternatives for stormwater storage/treatment related to the Cambridge sewer separation project. The many other alternatives reviewed were either substantially more costly, had more environmental impacts, or had construction periods of over ten years. MWRA and the City of Cambridge have received many comments on the proposed detention basin in the MEPA process and are now putting together the technical information to address these comments. MWRA and Cambridge have included a biologist on the consultant team and will be including provisions to minimize construction and environmental impacts. MDC has met with MWRA and Cambridge and will continue to scrutinize the ecological value of the project and discuss how the facility can be integrated into the master plan. In addition, Article 97 legislation will be needed to allow this use, therefore the public through their representatives will have additional opportunity to have input.

MWRA and Cambridge are now in the process of developing responses to the great many issues that were raised in the public environmental review process. Comments on flood management, pollution abatement, and ecological impacts will all be addressed in their response document, as required by the MEPA certification for this project. Many of these responses relate directly to the proposed detention basin, its location and design.

26. DEP should request that MEMA evaluate the effectiveness of the earthen berm designed to hold back flood waters up to the 25 storm event.

The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are involved in the regulatory review of the Cambridge sewer separation project with regard to flooding impacts and mitigation. They will, therefore, review the design of the project (and the flow model) and the projected impacts.

27. DEP should request that the Army Corps of Engineers remap the Alewife floodplain.

FEMA is now in the process of updating the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM). These new maps are expected to take at least two years to finalize.

28. The costs of a refined, continued sampling program are not excessive and DEP should require MWRA to gather water quality data.

DEP agrees that MWRA will need to continue to conduct receiving water and stormwater sampling to support the final CSO Reassessment Plan. The scope of this effort is expected to be similar to the level of effort associated with the previous sampling effort, but refined to gather the most useful data.

29. MWRA should be required to publish several notices in the paper over the Variance extension period to apprise the community of the frequency of CSOs and associated health hazards.

MWRA will be asked to renew its quarterly newsletter to stakeholders in the watershed. This will provide updates on the status of the CSO abatement efforts, notice on CSO discharges and their impacts, as well as to note important meeting dates.

30. The public comment period on the final CSO Reassessment Report should be extended to 60 days to allow for a complete and detailed review.

DEP agrees that a 60 day review period would be most reasonable to review the complex technical and financial information to be included in the CSO Reassessment Plan.

Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at