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Battelle Environment Matters

Battelle Environment Matters

New MWRA Contract Continues Water Quality Monitoring in Massachusetts Bay

The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) has renewed Battelle’s contract for water quality monitoring to assess potential impacts associated with the discharge of municipal wastewater effluent into Massachusetts Bay. 

The MWRA Harbor and Outfall Monitoring Program is a long-term project that monitors the effects of discharging treated sewage effluent into Massachusetts Bay. The project began in 1989 when MWRA began planning for an upgraded wastewater treatment system to mitigate the ecological and water quality impacts of discharging sewage into Boston Harbor. MWRA’s Deer Island Treatment Plant was upgraded to full secondary treatment, resulting in much cleaner effluent. In September 2000, the outfall to carry effluent from the Deer Island plant to 9.5 miles offshore into Massachusetts Bay was completed. The outfall carries treated effluent to the deeper areas of the Bay rather than releasing it into shallower Harbor waters, where ecological impacts are more concentrated. MWRA continues to monitor water quality, sediment contamination and biodiversity at the outfall location and over the wider Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays to evaluate the long-term success of the program. 

Battelle has been involved with the program since the very beginning. Battelle’s early work included siting and planning for the outfall tunnel and analysis of the effluent to look for chemical and biological signatures that would allow researchers to trace its fate and transport in the environment. Battelle has continued to be involved during every contract period since. Currently, Battelle provides long-term water column monitoring services to monitor and assess the potential impact of effluent discharge at the Massachusetts Bay outfall. The 2017 contract represents the 10th contract vehicle for the project. The monitoring period for the contract extends through 2019 and analysis and reporting will be completed in 2020. 

Monitoring of the effluent and its impacts on water quality and ecology in the surrounding area is required to achieve permit requirements under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act in 1972, NPDES mandates ongoing monitoring to ensure that effluent does not contain unacceptably high levels of identified pollutants and that it does not have a negative impact on human health or the environment. The Bay outfall’s proximity to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary makes ongoing monitoring especially important.

Monitoring includes analysis of the effluent as well as analysis of samples taken from the water column at various stations near the outfall, in addition to samples distributed over Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. Other monitoring activities are focused on assessment of seafloor sediments, impacts on fish and shellfish populations, bacterial levels and marine plant life. Battelle’s contract includes water column sampling and analysis as well as preparation of the final report integrating results from all monitoring activities. 

Battelle recently published results of the 2015 monitoring activities showing that the outfall and water treatment initiatives fully meet NPDES permitting requirements and have had a significant positive impact on water quality and ecology in the area. Results of the monitoring program earned MWRA a National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Platinum 9 Peak Performance Award, which recognizes facilities with 100% compliance with permit effluent limits for nine consecutive years. 

During this contract period, Battelle will be working with MWRA and EPA to review the current monitoring strategy and make recommendations to optimize the monitoring program going forward. We are pleased to continue our relationship with MWRA to protect the health of this critical marine environment.