Sewage discharged into our River, You have a right to know

The diagram shows the problem of combined sewer overflows that happen in heavy rainfall around the state. You can read more about combined sewer overflows here (


Following is the testimony of Patrick Herron on November 29, 2017 on S448 and H2935, which were presented by Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Denise Provost respectively. 

Honorable Chairpersons and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak, my name is Patrick Herron and I serve as Executive Director for the Mystic River Watershed Association.

On any day of the week for nearly every month of the year, if you drive down the Mystic River or the Charles River, you will see rowers on the river. These are committed athletes, ranging from Olympic caliber to high school athletes. And it is no different whether it is a balmy sunny day or raining. They are out there.

We have the opportunity and the responsibility to protect public health. Give them the knowledge to make informed decisions about whether they should be on the water.
Across this state, beaches are tested and they are closed if the tests are a smidgen, above safe bacteria levels.

Yet, we pour millions of gallons of sewage into the water and the response:  silence.

1)   One argument not to do this: It is too expensive. The cost of doing this – let’s be generous and assign $150,000. The budget of a typical treatment authority is in the tens and hundreds of millions. This $150,000 represents a tiny portion of the budget.

2)   It is hard to do this, the measurements will be imperfect, and will we have false alarms. There is a simple answer:  “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”  Other cities are doing it:  Philadelphia Water Department calls their system CSOcast. Seattle has a system. Everett Washington, North Hudson Sewer Authority, New York City, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and Kingston Ontario all have systems.

I’ll sum this up – we are not up here asking the sewer district to spend $500 million to eliminate these outfalls. Our ask is very modest – when you dump sewage in the river –provide timely notice so that our community can make informed decisions about recreation. In the Boston area, MWRA rightly touts themselves as a national model.  This is a place where they have fallen behind.