Politics and Public Policy

By Amy Edwards

The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority was created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1985. The purpose of the MWRA is to provide and manage the water and sewer systems for many communities in the state. In order to continue to provide these services and improvements, the MWRA must be efficiently run, similar to a business. The MWRA is governed by a Board of Directors: the Chairperson is the EOEA Secretary, there are three representatives from Boston appointed by the Mayor, four gubernatorial representatives, and three Advisory Board representatives. In addition to the Board of Directors, there is also an Advisory Board for the MWRA. The members of this board include one representative from each community that is served by the MWRA. One of the responsibilities of this board is to review the budgets of the MWRA. There are also a number of other organizations that are important to the service provided by the MWRA, including the customer communities and the investment community.

Many State and Federal agencies also help to guide the services and recent improvements that are currently taking place through the MWRA. Almost everything that the MWRA does, such as the new outfall tunnel, effects the environment in some way, whether it be great or small. Due to this, agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must carefully monitor and guide the MWRA with whatever they do. When the MWRA wants to begin a new project or improvement to its services, they must have their plans approved by these agencies and receive permits for whatever they hope to do.

The latest and final phase of the Boston Harbor Project includes placing a new Massachusetts Bay outfall tunnel 9.5 miles away from Deer Island, away from the coast of Massachusetts. The decision to make an outfall tunnel was made a number of years after the Federal Clean Water Act, which stated that there must be secondary treatment plants for sewer systems. After a number of years of researching with the EPA and other agencies, the MWRA finally decided on a site for the outfall which meets the criteria set by the EPA and other communities that were formed to find an appropriate site for this new improvement to the sewer system.

After choosing the site, the MWRA began what is known as baseline monitoring in 1992. This monitoring was designed to collect data on the waters and marine organisms around the outfall before and after the new outfall tunnel was used. This monitoring, which is being imposed by a judge, will help the MWRA and other concerned agencies to see what impacts the outfall tunnel is having on the water quality in the Bay and the effects that it has on the organisms that live in this area.

As a part of the monitoring, the MWRA must make regular reports about the progress of the monitoring and the construction of the outfall tunnel. Other agencies are also conducting their own studies of the improvements that are being made by the MWRA. Some organizations are studying the effects that the outfall might have on the organisms in the waters, particularly the endangered species, while other groups are looking at the effects of nutrients and sediments in the water.

Once the new outfall tunnel is complete, the MWRA will have met the standards set by the Federal Clean Water Act. This act states that there must be secondary treatment plants that remove 85% of the pollution from the wastewater. After completion of their latest project, the MWRA will be meeting the standards that are set by the Clean Water Act.

Another organization that has stated its views about the MWRA is the Conservation Law Foundation. The CLF stated its position on the MWRA outfall after reviewing information for MWRA's plans for a new outfall in Massachusetts Bay. Upon reviewing this information, the CLF has stated that it supports the new outfall tunnel of the MWRA, providing that it abides by all of the regulations and permits that it has been granted. The CLF sees the chosen site as an appropriate one, as they see no other feasible site for such a large amount of outfall. This organization also recommends that the MWRA needs to continue its monitoring and needs to also consider the affect that any toxins might have on the environment around the outfall. Overall, the CLF appears to support the new outfall tunnel that is under construction by the MWRA.

One risk that the CLF did present was concern for the marine life in Massachusetts Bay and how the new outfall would affect many marine organisms, especially endangered species. One particular species that is causing some concern is the Northern Right Whale. This particular mammal is on the endangered species list and comes to Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank primarily in the spring when there is a large amount of blooms. There are two sides to the effects that the new outfall will have on many species, including the right whale. When the new outfall tunnel is put into use, it will release many nutrients into the water.

The question is: Will these nutrients be harmful or helpful to these species? Some studies, including those conducted by the MWRA, say that the outfall will coincide with better water quality which means a healthier environment for the species. Others say the increase in nutrients will be not be as healthy for the whales because it could be more toxic. There are currently studies being done to determine the effects of the new outfall on the marine organisms. Sources, for example MIT, also say that the right whales will be less effected by the new outfall because they are not as high on the food chain as some other mammals. This might keep them from being exposed to lower levels of contaminants.

While studies are still being conducted, the MWRA is continuing to work on this new outfall tunnel. There are many different people working for the MWRA to get the new outfall tunnel working, and there are also many different organizations that the MWRA must work with in order to comply with regulations and laws. These organizations are trying to ensure that as little harm as possible will be done to the environment with the construction and usage of a new outfall tunnel by the MWRA.

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