Mass Rivers and nine watershed groups successfully move US EPA to protect water quality

Following a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and nine co-plaintiff environmental groups, a long-awaited federal stormwater permit went into effect for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today. The permit requires municipalities to take additional steps to protect rivers, lakes, streams and ponds from polluted stormwater runoff. Contaminated stormwater is the state’s top water pollution problem.

A Remarkable Win for Clean Water

“This is a major victory for water quality throughout the Commonwealth,’’ said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the suit.  “During a time when environmental protections are under wholesale attack, I am relieved that we were able to successfully defend Massachusetts’ residents’ right to clean water.”

At stake was the revised Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4 permit, which was originally supposed to take effect in July 2017.  Two days before its effective date, U.S. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt unilaterally delayed implementing the permit for another year even though it was already 10 years overdue. The environmental groups sued the US EPA, arguing that Pruitt’s action was illegal, undermined protections to the environment, and put the health of Massachusetts residents and water bodies at risk. The watershed associations include Connecticut River Conservancy, Ipswich River Watershed Association, Jones River Watershed Association, Merrimack River Watershed Council, Mystic River Watershed Association, Neponset River Watershed Association, North and South Rivers Watershed Association, OARS and Taunton River Watershed Alliance.

Faced with the coalition’s lawsuit, EPA chose not to further delay the permit’s implementation, and on July 1, 2018, allowed the stormwater permit to go into effect. Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey also had urged EPA in a court-filed brief to end its delay.

“Pruitt’s delay of Massachusetts’ MS4 permit was part of the Trump Administration’s pattern of rolling back and delaying environmental protections put in place by prior administrations,” Blatt said.  “We were concerned that if we did not challenge this illegal delay, the EPA would have been emboldened to simply continue it once it was due to expire.  We appreciate the participation of our member organizations around the state.  Massachusetts is lucky to have such an engaged and active environmental community.”

What Will Change

The revised MS4 permit requires towns to update their stormwater management plans, monitor outfall pipes, and prioritize cleanup of the most pressing problems, such as the discharge of untreated sewage into nearby waterways via storm drains.  The permit also requires public outreach, stormwater recharge, and “good housekeeping” practices such as storm drain cleaning and street sweeping.

The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, based in Cambridge, is a statewide group with a mission to protect and restore the state’s rivers and streams.  Mass Rivers’ 70+ organizational members span the Commonwealth.

Read more about the MS4 permit here.

The river groups are represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene C. Freidel.

Stormwater drain in East Cambridge.