Environment News Service (ENS)

Cleaning Worcester`s water without breaking the bank

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

New England's second largest city is working towards better control of polluted stormwater to its streams, ponds and lakes with a newly proposed draft stormwater permit, developed jointly by the U.S. EPA and the state of Massachusetts. Formally proposed Friday after two years of discussions, the permit is intended to provide improved environmental protection in the city of Worcester, population 176,000, located in the central part of the state.

It outlines a new five year plan for Worcester to control the discharge of stormwater, updating the existing permit issued in 1998.

The new permit provides protection from elevated bacteria and nutrient levels by utilizing a series of required best management practices rather than setting end-of-pipe pollution limits, as would be done in a permit for a wastewater treatment facility or factory. The permit does not include any requirements for installation of any new end-of-pipe treatment systems.

'Stormwater is the biggest issue affecting water quality in the Commonwealth today. MassDEP is eager to work with the EPA and the city of Worcester to assist the city in addressing this issue,' said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt.

The City of Worcester currently spends approximately $2 million annually in operating costs on programs associated with stormwater management - mostly on street sweeping, catch basin maintenance, and other system maintenance.

The EPA estimates the additional annual cost of the complying with the draft stormwater permit to be $1.3 million, with the majority of the cost funding efforts to identify illicit sanitary connections to the storm drain system.

If the cost burden of complying with the new permit were to be spread evenly among only Worcester households, EPA conservatively estimates that the new permit would result in a $1.50/month cost per household.

The proposal, a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, stormwater discharge permit, would apply to Worcester’s municipal separate storm sewer system, MS4, which includes 330 outfalls discharging to streams and lakes.

MS4s can contribute pollutants to receiving waters by transporting stormwater runoff, commingled at times with sewage or other illegal discharges.

Within the 347 miles of pipe in this separate stormwater collection system, there are known and unknown illegal sewage connections contaminating stormwater and Worcester’s water bodies.

Problems include bacterial contamination, which can make water unsafe for human contact; phosphorus pollution, which can lead to discoloration, noxious weeds, algae scum, and oxygen levels low enough to suffocate fish; and excessive levels of toxic metals.

The draft permit proposes conditions while authorizing the discharge of this stormwater drainage. It requires the city to reduce pollutants in discharges from its MS4 to the maximum extent practicable.

'Preventing and controlling water pollution represents a major challenge for all cities and towns committed to clean water,' said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.

'EPA has worked closely with our partners in the Commonwealth, as well as with Worcester officials, to design a stormwater permit that will help provide important protections to the environment, without breaking the bank,' Varney said.

The federal Clean Water Act requires municipalities such as Worcester to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their stormwater system of pipes and catch basins.

While considering the renewal of the original 1998 permit, MassDEP determined that many of Worcester’s water bodies continue to fail to meet basic water quality standards.

Stormwater pollution is one of the leading causes of Worcester’s water bodies failing to meet water quality standards. Area waters that will be better protected due to the new permit include the tributaries at the headwaters of the Blackstone River such as Beaver Brook, Tatnuck Brook, and Mill Brook, as well as the popular Lake Quisigamond, Indian Lake and Salisbury Pond.

The NPDES permit is one of several actions underway to help clean up Worcester’s water. Worcester and surrounding communities also are constructing upgrades at the Upper Blackstone treatment facility, which treats wastewater from Worcester and surrounding communities.

This facility is the largest dry-weather source of phosphorus pollution and heavy metals such as cadmium and copper.

Worcester, like many older cities, also has overflows of mixed sewage and stormwater that contribute to the degradation of water quality. The city is working to address its single remaining combined sewer overflow.

Worcester is also taking steps to prevent overflows of raw sewage caused by defects in the sewers due to blockages resulting from debris and grease, and by illegal connections of sump pumps and roof leaders into the sewers.

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