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EPA Orders Haverhill to Revise Plan for Reducing Flow of Sewage into the Merrimack River

Release Date: 11/15/2001
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced it has ordered the city of Haverhill to revise its plan for addressing the flow of untreated sewage into the Merrimack and Little Rivers.

The city's wastewater treatment plant treats both sewage and stormwater runoff. Due to the lack of capacity, the pipes – known as combined sewers – are designed to overflow after heavy rains, resulting in wastewater being discharged directly into the two urban waterways.

The overflows from these pipes result in about 69 million gallons of wastewater being discharged annually into the rivers. According to the order issued today by EPA New England, Haverhill failed to indicate it has seven CSOs, in addition to the 16 mentioned in a September 2000 report on its long-term plans for addressing CSO discharges.

The 23 combined discharge points are a major reason why the rivers routinely exceed bacteria limits after heavy rains. CSOs pose a significant threat to water quality, carrying viruses, bacteria and other biological pathogens as well as industrial waste and toxic materials.

"CSO discharges add significant pollution to waterways across New England, among those the Merrimack River which is routinely unsafe for swimming and fishing after heavy rains," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "This order will begin the work of eliminating the most egregious discharges from Haverhill's system into the Merrimack and Little Rivers."

To address the CSO problem, EPA has ordered the city to revise its long-term plan for addressing CSOs to reflect the new findings by Jan. 14, 2002. The city must also prepare an environmental impact report on the plan. Final reports must be submitted by August 2, 2002. The order also requires the city to finish the first phase of its CSO abatement program and reduce the frequency and volume of CSO discharges by Dec. 1, 2004.

Haverhill is among more than 100 municipalities in New England that are burdened with outdated CSOs. EPA has issued more than a dozen orders the past several years to address the problem, with several of them going to communities along the Merrimack River, including Nashua, NH, Manchester, NH, Lowell and the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District. In communities upstream of Haverhill, the Merrimack River is a primary drinking water source for area residents.