The City of Holyoke has entered into a proposed consent decree with federal and state enforcement authorities agreeing to take critical remedial action to prevent future sewage discharges into the Connecticut River from the City’s sewer collection system.
The consent decree, filed today in federal court, is the result of an enforcement action brought by the Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). According to complaints filed with the consent decree, Holyoke allegedly discharged pollutants into the Connecticut River in violation of its wastewater permits intended to limit combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges to the Connecticut River from the City’s collection system and failed to properly operate and maintain its sewer system.
“By entering into this consent decree, Holyoke will take important and necessary steps to prevent pollutants from entering the Connecticut River,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “This resolution will result in cleaner discharges from the City’s sewer system and a healthier environment for area communities.”
“This settlement will help us ensure that our businesses and families along the Connecticut River have access to clean and safe water,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. “We will continue to work with our partners to protect public health, our natural resources, and our economy.”
“This settlement is progress towards a cleaner Connecticut River and puts Holyoke on a path to improving its water infrastructure in a way that will substantially reduce pollution,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro. “EPA is committed to working with cities like Holyoke to find practical and cost-effective ways to improve infrastructure and to advance the healthy and clean iconic waterways that make New England so special.”
“The Long-term Control Plan to address CSOs is a significant step toward a cleaner Connecticut River,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “Upon submittal of Holyoke’s Long-term Control Plan, all Massachusetts communities discharging to the Connecticut River have either completely eliminated their combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges or are subject to a final Long-term Control Plan to address the remaining CSOs.”
In addition to a wastewater treatment facility, Holyoke owns and operates a sewer collection system that services approximately 70 percent of the City, two-thirds of which carries both sewage and stormwater. Most of the time, the combined system transport all wastewater to the facility for treatment. However, during periods of heavy rain the wastewater volume can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or the treatment facility and the excess wastewater will discharge to the Connecticut River without treatment. CSO discharges contain raw sewage and are a major water pollution concern.
The complaints allege that from at least 2012, Holyoke discharged untreated pollutants from its sewer system in violation of its permits and both the federal Clean Water Act and the state Clean Waters Act. In 2015, for example, the City reported discharging 133 million gallons of untreated effluent during wet weather, and during a 2012 inspection, EPA identified 40 potential overflows in dry weather. The complaints also allege that the City periodically discharges sewage and other pollutants into the Connecticut River outside its sewer system, such as through manholes that flow to storm drains.
The proposed consent decree requires Holyoke to develop an enforceable, long-term plan to control discharges from the City’s sewer system by Dec. 31, 2019. Holyoke has already begun work on developing this plan and has submitted a scope of work, which EPA and MassDEP have approved. While the City had taken steps over the years to address its unlawful sewer discharges pursuant to a number of EPA-issued administrative orders, it remained in noncompliance with its permits and both the federal Clean Water Act and the state Clean Waters Act. Once the City submits the plan, the consent decree calls for the parties to negotiate what further steps the City must take regarding the discharges.
The consent decree does not assess a civil penalty against the City for its violations at this time. Holyoke, however, is subject to vigorous reporting requirements to ensure compliance with the terms of the consent decree. If the City fails to comply, it may be subject to penalties as high as $2,500 per each day of violation.
This settlement is part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative to keep raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of our nation’s waters. Raw sewage overflows and inadequately controlled stormwater discharges from municipal sewer systems introduce a variety of harmful pollutants, including disease-causing organisms, metals, and nutrients that threaten our communities’ water quality and can contribute to disease outbreaks, beach and shellfish bed closings, flooding, stream scouring, fishing advisories and basement backups of sewage. Read more about the initiative here.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Once it is published in the Federal Register, a copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department website.