Item Coversheet

Town of Arlington, Massachusetts

Article 76
Warrant Article Title:
Warrant Article Text:

To see if the Town will vote to endorse a resolution declaring that the Alewife Brook in East Arlington is a valuable natural resource area for Arlington residents, but degraded by sewage contaminated discharges from the Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSO) that then can flood onto Arlington lands and houses; and further urging Town officials to engage with this problem and the regulatory process and to take actions to clean up Alewife Brook so that it can become a beautiful asset and a safe place to live near; or take any action related thereto.


Requested by:
(Inserted at the request of Kristin Anderson and ten registered voters)
Report Excerpt:

The Select Board strongly urges Town Meeting’s support for this resolution (advanced by “Save the Alewife Brook” organization) which would declare the Alewife Brook as a valuable natural resource, and urge Town officials to engage the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (“MWRA”), Cambridge and Somerville decision makers, as well as Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (“MADEP”) and Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) regulators to take further actions to reduce, and wherever possible eliminate Combine Sewer Outfall (“CSO”) discharges into the Alewife Brook.


In short, CSOs – events in which heavy rains or other saturations result in sewage being directly released into waterways from combined sewer and storm water pipes rather than funneling through wastewater treatment infrastructure – have historically been a serious source of local and regional water pollution. The MWRA, along with municipal sources of CSOs like Somerville and Cambridge were charged under orders from the federal court with eliminating or significantly reducing CSO discharges and their negative impacts on water quality. While the MWRA has been highly successful in meeting benchmarks and requirements set by the Court over the course of thirty five years, it has not eliminated CSO discharges entirely or ensured that every body of water meets state and federal water quality standards. This is especially true for the Alewife Brook, which experienced significant CSO discharge events in recent years even as the MWRA closed many of its CSO sources and completed infrastructure improvements as directed.


Given continued water quality problems in the Alewife, the MWRA, Somerville and Cambridge are still required to maintain “variances” for state and federal water quality standard deficiencies from MADEP. The current variance extension runs through August, 31, 2024, but the process for seeking further variances begins this year. The MWRA, Cambridge and Somerville must issue an updated “Long Term Control Plan,” which will ultimately require MADEP’s review and approval to extend the variance beyond August of 2024. The Control Plan sets forth both what the MWRA, Cambridge and Somerville believe they must continue to work on, and how they believe they can make progress. The Board strongly believes that this resolution is helpful to supporting Arlington’s demand that CSOs be sufficiently addressed in the Alewife and that water quality standards are met such that the Alewife can be enjoyed by wildlife and the public without exposure to dangerous levels of bacteria and other contaminants.

(5 – 0)

Vote Language:

VOTED:        That Town Meeting hereby resolves as follows:


WHEREAS, the Alewife Brook in East Arlington is a valuable natural resource area for Arlington residents, but degraded by sewage contaminated discharges from the Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSO) from the MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville; and


WHEREAS, the MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville, are in the late stages of completing required benchmarks directed by a series of Court Orders known as the “Boston Harbor Case;” and


WHEREAS, despite meeting many benchmarks and improving water quality in the Boston Metro Area, the Somerville CSO is not yet in compliance and the Alewife Brook is not sufficiently meeting water quality standards following CSO events; and


WHEREAS, contaminated waters from the Alewife Brook can flood onto Arlington lands and houses; and


WHEREAS, the MWRA, Cambridge, and Somerville are required to submit action plans to address these concerns and renew their water quality variance with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (“MA DEP”) and other state and federal regulatory authorities;


THEREFORE; Town Meeting declares the Alewife Brook to be a valuable natural resource deserving of equal commitment to rehabilitate and restore to the highest water quality standards feasible for wildlife, resident abutters, and recreation; and


FURTHER, that Town Meeting also resolves to encourage and support all Town officials in engaging the MWRA, Cambridge, Somerville, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation as well as state and federal regulators, legislators, and officials to garner the actions necessary to eliminate CSO discharges into the Alewife Brook and render the Brook a safe resource to live near and beautiful water resource to enjoy for the public.