Skip to Content
The 192nd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

AN ACT PROMOTING AWARENESS OF SEWAGE POLLUTION IN PUBLIC WATERS.

Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to authorize forthwith certain requirements and procedures to notify the public of sewage discharges into the waters of the commonwealth, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1.  Chapter 21 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 43 the following section:-

Section 43A.  (a) As used in this section, the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:

“Combined sewer system”, a sewer system designed to collect and convey storm water runoff and sewage in shared piping.

“Department”, the department of environmental protection.

“Discharge” or “discharging”, a release or diversion of sewage, industrial waste or other effluent, which is untreated or partially treated, including from a combined sewer system overflow, that is emitted from an outfall directly or indirectly into waters of the commonwealth.

“Outfall”, an outlet designed for the purpose of allowing a discharge that is part of, or connected to, a combined sewer system, sanitary sewer system or treatment works, including a connection to any such system or facility intended to allow wastewater to divert or bypass treatment by a facility.

“Permittee”, a person granted a permit under section 43 to operate and maintain a particular outlet for the discharge of pollutants into waters of the commonwealth or a person discharging pollutants from an outlet without a required permit or in violation of the conditions of a valid permit.

(b)  A permittee shall issue a public advisory when there is a discharge from the permittee’s outfall in accordance with this section. The department may allow a permittee to issue a combined advisory message when a weather event or other related occurrence involves more than 1 of the permittee’s outfalls discharging into the same water body or waterway. A permittee shall update its advisory as required by the department. A permittee shall issue an updated public advisory every 8 hours for an ongoing discharge and within 2 hours when a discharge ceases or is projected to cease, unless the department requires otherwise.

A public advisory shall, to the extent a permittee has the information available, describe in plain language the: (i) outfall’s location; (ii) approximate time, date and duration of the discharge; (iii) estimated volume of the outfall discharge based on the average discharge from data reported to the department for the prior 3 calendar years; (iv) waters and land areas affected or expected to be affected by the discharge; (v) identity of the outfall permittee; (vi) precautionary measures for the public to avoid health risks from contact with effluent; and (vii) any other information required by the department. In addition, the public advisory shall include a statement that the outfall discharge consists, or likely consists, of untreated sewage and waste.

(c)  As soon as possible, but no later than 2 hours after the discovery of a discharge from the permittee’s outfall, a permittee shall issue a public advisory and any updates required by subsection (b) to the department of public health, the municipal board of health or the health department where the outfall is located, any municipality directly impacted by the discharge and to the department.

(d)  Not later than 2 hours after discovery of a discharge from the permittee’s outfall, the permittee shall issue a public advisory and any updates required by subsection (b) by email or text messaging to individuals subscribed to receive notifications about a discharge from the permittee’s outfall. The permittee shall also send the advisory and any updates required by subsection (b) to the 2 largest news organizations that report on local news in communities near the outfall.

(e)  A permittee of an outfall shall establish a public website to post advisories when issued and to receive requests from the public to subscribe to permittee’s discharge notifications. The department may require that permittees provide advisories by other means, including, but not limited to, telephone voice messaging and social media.

(f)  The department, in consultation with the department of public health, shall establish standards for municipal boards of health or their health departments to issue public health warnings when notified by a permittee about a discharge pursuant to subsection (c). When warnings are necessary, as determined by the department, a municipal health board or its health department shall utilize the municipality’s existing emergency notification system, including, if available, reverse 911 emergency calls. The commissioner may direct a municipal health official of a board or department to issue a public warning about a discharge in order to protect public health. Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a municipal board of health or health department from issuing necessary public warnings concerning an outfall discharge.

(g)  A permittee shall coordinate with the department to establish the metering, modeling or other method the permittee shall use to determine or discover when a discharge occurs at its outfall to comply with the notification requirements of this section. If an outfall will not have metering equipment to detect and transmit reliable information about a discharge within the timeframes established by subsections (c) and (d), the permittee shall apply to the commissioner for authorization to use another method. The commissioner shall approve the proposed method, provided the permittee can obtain reliable information by such method about any discharge from its outfall and issue public advisories within said established timeframes.

If the proposed method or the current discharge detection capabilities of the permittee’s outfall will not provide timely or reliable information, the commissioner may extend the time for a permittee to issue a public advisory; provided, that such time shall be extended only as necessary, and by not more than 24 hours after discovery of the discharge. A permittee that has been granted an extension shall make necessary improvements to its outfall, if any, to detect an outfall discharge within the timeframes established pursuant to subsections (c) and (d).

Upon application of the permittee, the commissioner may waive any requirement under this section related to a permittee’s outfall; provided, that: (i) the outfall is decommissioned; or (ii) there has not been significant discharge from the outfall, as determined by the department, during the preceding 5 years; and (iii) the waiver will not pose a substantial threat to public health or to the environment. A waiver shall be valid for not more than 5 years. Authorizations and waivers allowed by the commissioner under this subsection shall be in writing and shall specify the conditions for each waiver.

(h)  The department may require a permittee to install and maintain conspicuous warning signage at the location of its outfall and at public access points to waters affected by a potential discharge from permittee’s outfall as determined by the department, including entrances to boat ramps, piers and designated swimming areas. Signage shall be suitable for its location and be of the size and form of notice as the department shall prescribe in accordance with this subsection. Each sign shall: (i) identify the existence of the outfall; (ii) inform about weather events that may cause a discharge; (iii) warn of the potential threat to public health by recreating in, or using waters and shores affected by a discharge; (iv) provide information for the public to subscribe to notifications about outfall discharges in local area waters; and (v) provide other information as required by the department. Such signage shall conform to all applicable provisions of federal law and regulations. The department shall coordinate with the department of conservation and recreation, municipalities and other landowners that have public access points that may be affected by a discharge, for the placement and maintenance of such signage on public and private property.

(i)  The department shall provide information about discharge notifications sent by permittees to the department under subsection (c) on its website. The website shall: (i) display information about current outfall discharges in the commonwealth, which shall be posted within 24 hours of the department receiving such data: and (ii) provide access to public advisories and timely updates regarding discharges.

(j)  Not later than May 15 of each year, the department shall issue a report providing a summary of all outfall discharge activity reported for the previous calendar year, including information about total discharge volumes, frequencies and pretreatment of effluent from any outfall discharging during that year into water bodies or waterways of defined regional areas. Annual reports shall be posted on the department’s website.

(k)  The department shall promulgate regulations to carry out this section.

SECTION 2.  The department of environmental protection shall promulgate regulations to carry out the purposes of section 1 no later than 1 year after passage of this act.

SECTION 3.  Section 1 shall take effect 540 days after passage of this act.

Approved, January 12, 2021.