On November 30th, the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation (SWCDC) and the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition held a forum and invited NepRWA and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to (BWSC) to describe river resources and current efforts to remove illicit sewage discharges from city neighborhoods into the river.
Vivian Morris of Mattapan Food and Fitness kicked off the discussion by describing the Neponset River as a valuable resource for the Mattapan and Hyde Park communities, but one about which not all residents knew or understood.
Following Vivien’s remarks, Ian Cooke, NepRWA’s Executive Director, gave a brief history of the Neponset, including its historic industrial use and the river’s current recreational opportunities. He also described the major sources of ongoing pollution in the river, including stormwater runoff and illicit sewer connections. Illicit or unauthorized sewer connections occur when sanitary sewer lines, which carry water from toilets and washing machines to a treatment facility, are instead directly connected to or accidentally leak into storm drains, allowing wastewater to reach the river without treatment.
Attendees were encouraged to take steps to reduce the impact of stormwater pollution on the river, including volunteering for river cleanups and reporting suspicious discharges or dumping in the river.
Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s Report
Amy Schofield of BWSC described the Commission’s efforts throughout the city to identify and fix illicit connections to storm drains. Amy explained the steps necessary to complete this task, including dye testing, through which BWSC employees drop a brightly colored dye into suspected plumbing fixtures and watch for the dye to appear in a manhole, allowing them to identify problem connections.
The BWSC has been operating under a 2012 consent decree (or agreement) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expedite investigations of illicit connections throughout the city. Under the consent decree, BWSC will “complete” investigations of all sub-catchment (or drainage) areas by 2019; this means that within the next two years, the commission will have conducted at least one investigation in each sub-catchment.
Importantly, Ms. Schofield explained that the “completed” investigations did not necessarily yield completed repairs, and that the Commission was committed to continuing its investigations and repair efforts well beyond the expiration of the consent decree.
Community members expressed concern about the lack of public information about safe activities on the river (e.g., boating and fishing) and unsafe activities (e.g., swimming and eating fish caught in the river). Several attendees also suggested sign installation and other activities may help draw attention to river resources and stormwater issues.
NepRWA will support the efforts of SWCDC and the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition to follow up on suggestions and develop next steps for interested individuals to effectively advocate for our river and ensure it remains a priority for cleanup and restoration activities.