EPA Withdraws Wastewater Increase Decision

On February 22, 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its approval of the City of Marlborough's 44% increase in wastewater discharge to the Assabet River. OARS and the Town of Stow had appealed the permit modification in January 2010 citing violation of state water quality standards.

Other organizations, including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Conservation Law Foundation also registered strong objections to the proposed wastewater increase.

The EPA now plans to move forward with drafting the next 5-year wastewater permits which are due in 2010. These permits are for all four municipal wastewater treatment plants on the Assabet River: Westborough, Marlborough Westerly, Hudson and Maynard.

OARS had appealed the permit modification to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Appeals Board. The discharge permit for the Marlborough treatment plant, which also serves Northborough, was modified in November, 2009 to allow a 44% increase in the wastewater the plant discharges to the Assabet River. The law requires that the permit modification, issued under the state and federal Clean Water Acts, contain sufficient limits on pollutant discharge to enable the river to meet its water quality standard. The river does not yet meet this standard (Class B - clean enough for fishing and swimming), due primarily to the phosphorus contained in the wastewater discharges from four municipal treatment plants. The phosphorus creates rampant aquatic weed growth that severely limits recreational use and produces a foul rotting odor in the summer and fall.

In December 2009 DEP received public comment on a study of other ways to reduce phosphorus in the river, including removing sediment and dams. "Based on the sediment and dam removal study, it is clear that the only feasible way to meet water quality standards in the near future is to have more stringent limits at the wastewater treatment plants," said OARS' Executive Director, Alison Field-Juma. "Marlborough's request to increase their discharge to the river should have been evaluated in light of this new information, as required by law. Until the big questions are solved, allowing an increase in treated effluent discharged to the river is premature, at best. There are alternatives that would still allow the communities to grow, but not pollute the river," she added.

New discharge permits for the four municipal wastewater treatment plants on the Assabet (Westborough, Marlborough Westerly, Hudson and Maynard), are due out in 2010 and are required to meet the water quality standards. This would become increasingly difficult if the treatment plant discharges were increased.