According to officials, the act is a step toward environmental protection and the preservation of public health.
The Massachusetts House and Senate enacted a bill on January 8 called “An act promoting awareness of sewage pollution in public waters.” It is now waiting for governor Charlie Baker’s signature. According to a press release from the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the bill will provide progress in protecting public health, the state’s water quality, and upgrading an outdated water infrastructure. It will let residents know when there is sewage discharge in their area and local waterways, which they previously would not have been alerted about.
“Massachusetts residents have a right to know if there is sewage in their rivers, especially this year when we’ve turned to nature for safe recreation and peace of mind,” said Julia Blatt, executive director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, in a press release. “Mass Rivers appreciates the leadership of the bill’s sponsors, senator Jehlen, representative Campbell, and representative Provost on this issue, and we are thrilled to see it approved by the legislature. Passing of this bill is an important step toward raising awareness of this problem, bringing our water infrastructure out of the nineteenth and into the twenty-first century.”
According to Bill H.4921, a public advisory will describe in plain language the location of sewage outfalls, the time and date of discharges, the estimated volume of discharges, waters and lands affected, precautionary measures the public can take, and more. No later than two hours after the discovery of a discharge, a permittee must issue a public advisory and describe, in text or email, the details of the discharge. They must also send information to news organizations near the outfall. Particularly during the time of the coronavirus, sanitation of waterways is an important concern.
“With a COVID-19 connection to sewage, this legislation becomes more critical to preserve public health,” said representative Linda Dean Campbell. “Many citizens have fought for this for years – and they will now be able to receive individual notification of sewage spills. State government has a responsibility to ensure that our residents and local leaders are notified of public health concerns.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.