Save the Sound and the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) filed separate amicus briefs on December 16, 2020, urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) to deny the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission’s (SWSC) appeal of their Clean Water Act discharge permit for the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility (SRWTF).
The EPA and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) re-issued Springfield’s long-expired permit on September 30, 2020. The SRWTF represents the largest municipal discharge on the Connecticut River, and for the first time this permit imposed a limit on the amount of total nitrogen it can discharge into the Connecticut River each year. The permit will also require the SWSC to notify the public each time there is a discharge of untreated sewage into the Connecticut River. SWSC is challenging multiple elements of the new permit, including the nitrogen limit and the public notification requirements.
“We are really disappointed that SWSC chose to put resources into lawyering a frivolous appeal,” said Andrew Fisk, CRC’s Executive Director. “We have high confidence in the talented staff that operate this facility and know that this very reasonable nitrogen limit is achievable. It is high time for the largest discharger in the watershed to catch up to the requirements that have been imposed years ago on other facilities. This license is 15 years overdue. Let’s move forward.”
Nitrogen discharged into the Connecticut River from wastewater treatment effluent as well as other sources, such as runoff from fertilized lawns or farm fields, flows downstream and contributes to the pollution of Long Island Sound. The overabundance of nitrogen in the Sound creates harmful algae blooms that, in turn, create areas of low oxygen levels (called “dead zones” or hypoxia), which suffocates fish and other organisms within the water. Hypoxia can cause fish die-offs, loss of aquatic vegetation and tidal wetlands, poor water quality and coastal acidification all around the region.
New York and Connecticut have reduced nitrogen inputs into Long Island Sound through an agreement called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) issued in 2000; however, much more needs to be done, especially in the upstream states of MA, NH, and VT. Because there is evidence that target areas outlined in the TMDL will not meet water quality standards, EPA is working on an ongoing Nitrogen Reduction Strategy for Long Island Sound which will comprehensively study nitrogen pollution in the entire Sound and determine thresholds, loads, and measures that will have to be taken to complete the cleanup. EPA has developed a framework for establishing an initial round of limits on nitrogen loading from Massachusetts facilities in the CT River watershed, based on treatment plant size.
“We are encouraged by the progress that is being made by EPA toward developing the more comprehensive Nitrogen Reduction Strategy and support their approach to this permit which will cap nitrogen discharges at current loads until more information is available,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal counsel for Save the Sound. “EPA’s imposition of these modest limits based on design flow to meet 2000 requirements and antidegradation standards will serve to prevent further increases and are welcome, even if long overdue.”
While much work still needs to be done to address the ongoing problem of nitrogen pollution, the limits contained in this and other Massachusetts sewage treatment plant permits capping total discharges at their current levels, are a reasonable start by the EPA and MassDEP. Save the Sound and CRC firmly support maintaining the limits of this EPA permit representing an important step in the overall goal of improving the water quality for humans and wildlife living in and around the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Additionally, Save the Sound and CRC support the new public notification requirements for discharges from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Bacteria data available on both Save the Sound’s and CRC’s websites show that high levels of bacteria which threaten human health are present at public access locations on the Connecticut River and other areas of the Sound after periods of wet weather. Many people who use these waters are at risk and totally unaware when this is happening.
Roger Reynolds, Save the Sound, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Donlon, Connecticut River Conservancy, 413-325-4426 (cell) or email@example.com