Major Victory for Our Rivers!

Watershed groups successfully press U.S. EPA to protect water quality!
Following a lawsuit by Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, with OARS and eight other river groups across the state as co-plaintiffs, the EPA’s stormwater permit for Massachusetts went into effect on July 1!

This is a victory for clean water that will benefit us all. Municipalities will be required to take additional steps to protect rivers, lakes, streams and ponds from polluted stormwater runoff. Contaminated stormwater is a leading source of water pollution in the state.

The revised Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, permit was to take effect on July 1, 2017. Two days before its effective date, U.S. EPA Chief Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed the implementation for a year even though it was already 10 years overdue. A coalition of watershed associations*, led by Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, sued the EPA, arguing that Pruitt's action was illegal, undermined protections to the environment, and put the health of Massachusetts residents and water bodies at risk.

Faced with the coalition's lawsuit, EPA choose not to further delay the permit's implementation, and on July 1, 2018, allowed the stormwater permit to go into effect. Massachusetts' Attorney General Maura Healey also had urged EPA in a court-filed brief to end its delay.

“This is a significant victory for all of us,’’ said Alison Field-Juma, Executive Director of OARS. “At a time when environmental protections are under wholesale attack, I’m proud that we were able to defend a strong consensus on how to reduce the pollution carried into our rivers and lakes by stormwater. I look forward to working with our communities to further improve water quality and decrease public health risks, such as bacterial pollution and toxic algae blooms.” She added: “This is particularly important as climate change is bringing more severe droughts and floods which amplify the harm from stormwater—we must respond to these new threats to our rivers.”

“Pruitt’s delay of Massachusetts’ MS4 permit was part of the Trump Administration’s pattern of rolling back and delaying environmental protections put in place by prior administrations,” said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We were concerned that if we did not challenge this illegal delay, the EPA would have been emboldened to simply continue it when it was due to expire. We appreciate the participation of our member organizations, such as OARS, and eight other watershed groups around the state. Massachusetts is lucky to have such an engaged an active environmental community.”

What Will Change
The revised MS4 permit requires towns to update and enhance their stormwater management plans, map their stormwater system, monitor outfall pipes, and prioritize cleanup of the most pressing problems—such as the discharge of untreated sewage into nearby waterways via storm drains. The permit also requires public outreach, stormwater recharge, and “good housekeeping” practices such as regular storm drain cleaning and street sweeping.

Mass Rivers Executive Director Julia Blatt emphasizes that “this permit is a product of extensive public input as well as eight long years of negotiation among the state DEP, the EPA, and many stakeholders.”

The permit affects all Sudbury-Assabet-Concord communities except Carlisle, which was granted a waiver due to its low population density. It applies to the urbanized areas with municipal stormdrain systems. Find your town's map here.

Read more about the MS4 permit here.

The river groups are represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene C. Freidel.

*The watershed associations in the coalition include OARS, Connecticut River Conservancy, Ipswich River Watershed Association, Jones River Watershed Association, Merrimack River Watershed Council, Mystic River Watershed Association, Neponset River Watershed Association, North and South Rivers Watershed Association, and Taunton River Watershed Alliance.

If you have questions and would like to learn more contact Alison Field-Juma at 978-369-3956 or email.