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Massachusetts' Greater Lawrence Sanitary District Agrees to Invest $18 Million to Improve Sewage Treatment System and Pay $254,000 Fine

Release Date: 10/31/2006
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass., Oct. 31, 2006) – Federal and State environmental officials today announced a sweeping agreement with the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District in northeastern Massachusetts, settling alleged violations of clean water laws and government-issued permits.

Under a civil Complaint and Consent Decree simultaneously filed today in U.S. District Court in Boston, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District (GLSD) will pay a $254,000 fine and invest in an $18 million sewage treatment plant upgrade. These steps resolve allegations that GLSD’s combined sewer collection system had discharges from “combined sewer overflow” (CSO) outfalls, violating state water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria, indicating a significant human health risk. Combined sewer overflow discharges generally occur during or after significant rainstorms, when a mixture of storm water and domestic waste exceeds the flow capacity of the combined sewer system, resulting in untreated sewage being released into the environment.

“Thanks to close coordination and strong efforts by state and federal agencies, GLSD is making improvements to its treatment plant that will better protect public health and the aquatic ecosystem of the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office. “This settlement will bring great benefits to Lawrence and other downstream communities by reducing the number of times that sewer waste is discharged during rainy weather in the areas where people fish and recreate along the Merrimack River.”

Under the settlement, GLSD will pay a total penalty of $254,000 ($127,000 to the United States, and $127,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). The District will be required to increase its monthly average treatment plant capacity from 52 million gallons per day (MGD) to a maximum peak secondary treatment capacity of 135 MGD by Dec. 31, 2007, thereby significantly reducing the number of CSO discharge events annually.

“This law enforcement action under the Clean Water Act has resulted in GLSD’s commitment to funding and construction of significant upgrades in its treatment of sewage generated by the towns of Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, North Andover and Salem, N.H.,” stated U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan. “The upgrades will reduce the discharge into the Spicket and Merrimack Rivers of untreated sewage and untreated water runoff from the streets. I am proud of the Government and of the GLSD for achieving this settlement. In the future, the rivers will be cleaner for use in recreation and fishing, and aquatic life will be better protected.”

The GLSD owns and operates a 52 MGD secondary treatment plant in North Andover, Mass., serving member communities of Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, and North Andover (in Mass.), as well as Salem, N.H. The treatment plant discharges to the Merrimack River. In addition to the treatment plant, GLSD owns and operates an interceptor sewer system designed to receive wastewater flow from the member communities. The interceptor sewer system includes five CSO outfalls that discharge a mixture of wastewater and stormwater to the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers during wet weather when the capacity of the treatment works and conveyance is exceeded.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also moved to intervene and filed its own Complaint.

"The substantial sewage plant upgrades this agreement requires mean cleaner water and better health for the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers," Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said. "With this settlement, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District is taking some very positive steps and we will continue to work with the District, MassDEP, and the federal government to protect the public health and preserve our natural resources."

GLSD’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit prohibits discharges that cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards. The civil Complaint alleges that GLSD failed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act in operation of its wastewater treatment facility and violated its NPDES permit by exceeding limits for fecal coliform bacteria. The discharges are located in a densely developed area of Lawrence where people fish and boat near and downstream of the discharge locations. Shellfish beds downstream from the discharge points are also affected. In a typical year there are about 14 discharge events, during which the CSO outfalls discharge approximately 112 million gallons of combined sewage.

“The Merrimack River is a vital lifeline for Lawrence and its neighbors, and any threat to its use as a shellfishing or recreational resource must be mitigated,” MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O’Donnell said. “This agreement will help protect the riverway and its downstream uses, and elevate the quality-of-life for residents of the Merrimack Valley.”

Also required in the settlement is that GLSD must submit a post-construction monitoring report to EPA and Massachusetts by March 31, 2009 which evaluates the effectiveness of the increased capacity at reducing discharges from CSO outfalls. Finally, GLSD must submit a revised Long-Term Control Plan to EPA and Massachusetts by June 30, 2010.

More information on EPA's enforcement of Combined Sewer Overflows in New England (epa.gov/region1/eco/cso/index.html)

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Press Contacts:

Dave Deegan, EPA Region 1 Press Office, (617) 918-1017
Samantha Martin, U.S. Attorney’s Office Press Office, (617) 748-3139
Beth Stone, MA Attorney General’s Office Press Office, (617) 727-2200
Ed Coletta, MA Department of Environmental Protection Press Office, (617) 292-5737