Advisory Board Submits Comments on Draft Deer Island Permit

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Advisory Board recently submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) expressing concerns with the draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for MWRA’s Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. The draft permit, if finalized as written, has the potential to negatively impact MWRA member communities.

The main issues raised in the Advisory Board’s comments are:

1. Vague requirements to meet water quality standards: The draft permit includes vague requirements for the treatment plant and connected sewer systems to meet water quality standards without specifying exactly how the MWRA and its member communities should do so. This violates the Clean Water Act’s requirement for concrete, enforceable limits derived from water quality standards.

2. Inclusion of member communities as co-permittees: Making 43 communities with sanitary sewer connections to Deer Island co-permittees on the treatment plant’s permit exceeds EPA’s Clean Water Act authority. The draft permit also does not clearly define the separate responsibilities and liabilities of MWRA and its member communities. Further, it moves the four CSO MWRA communities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Chelsea into a newly created “CSO-responsible co-permittee” category rather than continuing to issue these communities individual NPDES permits as has been done in the past.

3. Burdensome planning requirements: The permit requires the development of costly long-term plans focused on responding to major storms, flooding, and climate change. These novel planning obligations do not clearly relate to governing discharges as required under EPA’s NPDES authority. They also impose multi-decade planning horizons inconsistent with the 5-year NPDES permit term.

If finalized without revision, these draft permit conditions could significantly impact MWRA member communities by shifting legal liabilities, imposing costly new planning mandates, and disrupting the longstanding relationship between MWRA and its served communities. The Advisory Board has proposed specific revisions to address these concerns. EPA and DEP must carefully consider the Advisory Board’s recommended changes to mitigate negative repercussions for dozens of Massachusetts municipalities.


The Advisory Board submitted these comments to EPA and Mass DEP on the draft Deer Island NPDES permit.

Read full comment letter with attachments