Monday, March 22, 2010

Sewage Release "Blessing in Disguise".


Sewage release avoided a far worse outcome

THE MASSACHUSETTS Water Resources Authority dumped 15 million gallons of untreated sewage into Quincy Bay earlier this week, and every gallon was a blessing in disguise. If not for the careful monitoring of the Nut Island sewage screening facility at the height of the recent powerful storm and the timely decision to redirect the mixture of storm water and sewage away from the plant and into emergency outfalls, hundreds of homes from Quincy to East Milton would now be polluted with raw sewage.

The ferocious weekend storm tested the capacity of the water authority, which recorded one-day records for sewage screening at Nut Island and sewage treatment at Deer Island. The system held up remarkably well in a storm with rainfall totals on par with Hurricane Diane in 1955.

Some Quincy officials, however, remain skeptical of the discharge decision and are demanding an investigation. There’s nothing wrong with a review by state and federal environmental officials. But it’s a safe bet that the modest discharge saved the Nut Island facility from flooding and electrical failure that could have taken months to fix. The decision also protected a main sewer line that runs from Framingham to Quincy.

A little context is in order here. In the 1980s, over 200 million gallons of raw or barely chlorinated sewage discharged directly into Boston Harbor every day, creating one of the filthiest harbors in the nation. A subsequent $4 billion, publicly-funded clean-up transformed the harbor, which is now fishable and swimmable on nearly every dry day. In the broader view of Boston Harbor, a 15 million gallon spill during a monster storm is a drop in the bucket. And it won’t affect swimming quality one whit even this week. Normal weather patterns and tidal flushing see to that.

“I made the call, and it was the right call for the environment and the public’s health,’’ said water authority executive director Frederick Laskey. Even the strictest harbor advocates concur.

Bruce Berman
, the bay watcher for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, said it wasn’t a deal with the devil that Laskey made — “It was the deal of the century.’’

No one likes to see sewage spills in Boston Harbor. But in this case, the decision was sound, and the alternative — raw sewage creeping up the basement stairs — much ranker.

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