EPA Signals Action on Deer Island’s NPDES Permit

The Advisory Board has monitored the status of Deer Island’s NPDES permit for over fifteen years – when the original permit’s term expired. The Advisory Board and the MWRA both have areas of concern about potential changes to the permit moving forward, and their impacts to both MWRA and its communities.

The original NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit was issued in 2000 with a five-year term ending in August 2005. As required by the terms of the permit, the MWRA submitted an application for renewal, but rather than renewing the permit, the EPA “administratively continued” it. This term essentially means that the regulatory terms contained within the original permit remain in full force; further, no changes to the permit can be made while it is administratively continued.

The Advisory Board’s biggest concern moving forward is naming MWRA member communities as co-permittees in the Deer Island NPDES permit. The Advisory Board only has to look back to another recent situation where co-permittee language added some complications for MWRA. MWRA was named as a co-permittee on the original cross-harbor cable, which left them responsible for all of the relocation and removal costs. Had this language not been included, the responsibility would have rested solely with the utility who owned and installed the cable. Similarly, the Advisory Board remains concerned with language that would name MWRA communities as co-permittees on the Deer Island NPDES permit.

The fear is that co-permittee language would fundamentally change the relationship between the MWRA and its member communities when it comes to enforcement of environmental requirements. It is far easier for EPA to instruct MWRA to ensure that communities meet their environmental obligations – current and future – on its behalf than for it to regulate and monitor each community individually.

Beyond the co-permittee issue, there are many other issues that MWRA and the Advisory Board have concerns on including:

    1. Enterococcus limit – particularly where Deer Island’s outfall is located miles offshore into Massachusetts Bay, a strict Enterococcus limit would have limited value (see the Advisory Board’s video on the topic here)
  1. Nitrogen limits
  2. Weekly load limits for TSS, which could raise some compliance concerns during wet weather
  3. Ambient Monitoring and Contingency Plan
  4. CSOs – as always, CSOs remain a high priority for the Advisory Board and the Authority
  5. Blending, which is currently reported as a “bypass.” Changes to this could have impacts on the MWRA as well.

As always, the Advisory Board remains vigilant on this issue and continues to work with MWRA and EPA staff as the Deer Island NPDES permit process continues.