Water-quality gradesWater-quality grades: Alewife Brook D. / Mysic River Watershed Association graphic

Efforts to improve the quality of Alewife Brook water and its impact on neighbors have advanced recently on two fronts:

  • The Arlington Select Board unanimously approved a letter of support for legislation to raise awareness about the unsafe condition of the brook and to advocate for an end to untreated sewage discharges. The vote Feb. 27 was 4-0; Eric Helmuth did not vote because of his work with the state Legislature.
  • New state legislation, HD3316, has been filed aimed at improving rivers and streams in greater Boston by limiting the dumping of untreated sewage pollution and potentially leading to the building of new treatment facilities.

Save the Alewife Brook is a grassroots environmental group with supporters in the communities along the Alewife Brook and the Little River, including Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Medford and Somerville.

This organization envisions an Alewife Brook that is safe and an environmentally healthy community resource -- not a public water body used as a source of relief for an outdated, overburdened sewer system.

“We envision an Alewife Brook that is safe to live near, and an environmentally healthy community resource. We ask for your support for a new Alewife Brook long-term sewage-control plan that is being developed by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Cambridge and Somerville.”                -- Kristin Anderson, Save the Alewife Brook

Group Chair Kristin Anderson has long advocated for an end to unwarranted sewage output. At the Feb. 27 Select Board meeting, she asked for the board’s support for new legislation addressing sewer overflows. View her presentation materials >> 

“We envision an Alewife Brook that is safe to live near, and an environmentally healthy community resource. We ask for your support for a new Alewife Brook long-term sewage-control plan that is being developed by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MRWA), Cambridge and Somerville — the three entities that dump untreated human and industrial waste, mixed with storm water, into Alewife Brook during rainstorms. The new, long-term sewage-control plan aims to lessen untreated sewage pollution.

“Along the Alewife Brook, political will is splintered, because the brook marks the boundary between four separate municipalities with four different local governments: Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge and Somerville, and Medford is just yards away from where the Alewife [Brook] meets the Mystic River,”said Anderson.

The MWRA bears responsibility for its combined sewage overflows (CSOs), which dump untreated human and industrial waste into Alewife Brook. Traditionally, people have looked the other way, and so the situation becomes someone else’s nightmare, which manifests as a serious health hazard during flood events in East Arlington, she explained.

“The commonwealth can greatly improve water quality by passing legislation to bring all untreated CSOs in the MWRA’s sewer-system area to a 25-year level of control. Untreated sewage pollution would be discharged, on average, only once every 25 years.

“This is one standard that is currently applied to other CSOs in the Boston area, including the beaches along the bay. Polluters would be required to eliminate more frequent discharges or ensure that those that do occur are treated. This would be a big step toward addressing the problem while the cities continue to separate their antique combined sewer lines.”

6 active CSO outfalls

Anderson pointed to six active CSO outfalls in the Alewife Brook. In 2021, 51 million gallons of untreated sewage pollution was discharged, she said.

Select Board logo, 2019

The proposed legislation would bring the same level of CSO control to the Alewife Brook as is afforded along the bay, which makes recreational swimming possible on Boston beaches, she said.

“This is something that the MWRA can do, and this legislation gives 10 years to accomplish this for the Alewife, which would be a huge improvement for Alewife Brook,” she added.

In response, board member John Hurd said, “I’m glad the surrounding towns and legislation are taking steps to prevent untreated sewage from being dumped into Alewife Brook.”

On March 4, Anderson reported “exciting news” to the Arlington Email List, referring to HD3316.

She extended “huge thanks" to state Reps. Dave Rogers and Adrian Madaro for introducing the legislation and to Rep. Sean Garballey for cosponsoring it.

She said that Select Board Cochair Diane Mahon “deserves our gratitude for her continued leadership on this issue.”

July 18, 2022: Alewife Brook water quality rates a D, environmentalists say



This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Monday, March 6, 2023.

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