EPA and City of Fall River Agree on Five-Year Plan for Fixing Wastewater Infrastructure and Reducing Combined Sewer Overflows into Local Waterways

BOSTON (Dec. 20, 2021) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the City of Fall River have signed an Administrative Order on Consent committing the City to continue implementing an agreed-upon five-year plan to reduce and treat combined sewer discharges coming from city wastewater pipes into the Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay

“We are so happy to have an agreement with the City of Fall River to reduce wastewater discharges into the local waterways by implementing a five-year integrated infrastructure plan,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro. “These wastewater infrastructure upgrades are important for ensuring the residents of Fall River have clean waterways. The integrated planning process is a smart way for cities to prioritize projects and develop a manageable spending plan that regulators agree to.”

Fall River’s wastewater system serves 90,000 residents from Fall River and portions of Westport and Freetown, Massachusetts, and Tiverton, Rhode Island. The system includes many areas of combined sewers, with regular overflows into the Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay. EPA expects that the infrastructure projects Fall River plans to do under the Integrated Plan will improve water quality and will benefit the downstream communities using them. The proposed settlement is also consistent with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directives to strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution, with special focus on achieving remedies with tangible benefits for the community.

Since 1992, the City has been addressing Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) under a federal court order resulting from a case brought by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). EPA is not currently a party to the settlement. The City has spent over $200 million to address CSOs, including a 38-million-gallon storage tunnel, multiple sewer separation projects and Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion. The work to date has significantly reduced the number and volume of CSO discharges, but many remain. 

Fast forward to 2015, and there are still several wastewater infrastructure challenges- both CSOs and Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs)- causing wastewater to discharge directly into Fall River waterways and causing flooding within the City. Additionally, there was an aging wastewater treatment plant that required rehabilitation and upgrades to meet pollution reduction goals. To manage the infrastructure needs and cost, Fall River needed a plan for prioritizing work and meeting requirements. In 2015 they drafted an Integrated Plan which evaluated all the City’s Clean Water Act obligations and prioritized them, focusing on projects with the most environmental benefits considering cost. The City revised the spending plan in 2019 and in 2020 the City and EPA agreed on a modified five-year plan focused on infrastructure improvements from 2020-2025.

The Order we have agreed upon today requires the City to implement the first five years of its Integrated Plan. Fall River estimates it will spend about $20 million per year to:

  • Implement specific CSO separation, CSO storage, and infiltration/inflow reduction projects;
    • Upgrade pump stations and other sewer facilities (expected to reduce inflow and optimize operation to reduce overflows);
    • Implement specific projects to rehabilitate and upgrade the WWTF (the upgrades are designed to allow adding nitrogen removal in the future);
    • Optimize the operation of existing CSO chlorination facilities, including specific monitoring of chlorine and bacteria levels in the discharges;
    • Study the effectiveness and feasibility of new CSO screening/disinfection facilities (potentially including non-chlorine disinfection), and
  • By 2025 create a revised IP addressing future CSO, WWTF and collection system projects.

Overall, the City will spend $126.8 million implementing the first six years of its Integrated Plan.

Definitions:

Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO): A combined sewer system (CSS) collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater into one pipe. Under normal conditions, it transports all of the wastewater it collects to a sewage treatment plant for treatment, then discharges to a water body. The volume of wastewater can sometimes exceed the capacity of the CSS or treatment plant (e.g., during heavy rainfall events or snowmelt). When this occurs, untreated stormwater and wastewater, discharges directly to nearby streams, rivers, and other water bodies. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) contain untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris as well as stormwater. They are a priority water pollution concern for the nearly 860 municipalities across the U.S. that have CSSs.

Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO): Sanitary sewer systems collect and transport domestic, commercial, and industrial wastewater and limited amounts of stormwater and infiltrated ground water to treatment facilities for appropriate treatment. Sanitary sewers are different than combined sewers, which are designed to collect large volumes of stormwater in addition to sewage and industrial wastewater. Occasionally, sanitary sewers will release raw sewage. These types of releases are called sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). SSOs can contaminate our waters, causing serious water quality problems, and back-up into homes, causing property damage and threatening public health.

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