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Alewife Brook path cleanup, CSO tour on Earth Day

Caption: Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A combined sewer overflow.

UPDATED April 18: Precinct 11 Town Meeting member Kristin Anderson, who is monitoring the combined sewer overflows into the Alewife Brook, provided this update.

Join members of Save the Alewife on Saturday morning, April 22, for an Earth Day Alewife path cleanup and CSO tour.

Those involved plan to gather trash along the path next to the brook. While there, they can show you the combined sewer outfalls, or SCOs.

Sign up here >>

Meet at Thorndike Field Dog Park at 9:15 a.m.

  • Bring gloves, water, & garbage picker, if you have one.
  • We’ll provide bags.
  • We’ll proceed in intermittent/light rain. No rain date.
Free T-shirts for volunteers:

Alewife T-shirt

Participants take individual responsibility for their own safety, including avoiding touching any suspect items.

 

Two new state budget amendments have been filed for Alewife Brook: Dredging and Flooding Mitigation Study (#1019) & Update to Alewife Master Plan (#1020). Thanks go out to wicked awesome Representatives Dave Rogers, Sean Garballey & Christine Barber for filing and co-sponsoring these earmarks. Thanks also to Dave’s fabulous aides Kira Arnott & George Armstrong for their hard work and support.

 
 

Alewife Brook Dredging & Flood Mitigation Study

Alewife Brook, which borders Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, regularly overflows its banks, inundating residential areas that are home to multiple environmental justice communities. Untreated human and industrial waste discharged into the brook from combined sewer overflows exacerbates the public health threat from flooding. Climate change is making this situation worse. EPA recommends that Alewife Brook be dredged, and its concrete channel removed to increase stormwater capacity and decrease surface flooding. Modeling and analysis of current hydraulic conditions is the required first step.  The hydraulic study will identify the specific actions needed to protect affected communities from sewage-contaminated flooding. The study will also provide information required to secure federal and state funds. Funding for the study will go to the Mystic River Watershed Association, which has a long history of work in the area.

The Alewife Brook Concrete Sewage Channel has accumulated three feet of hazardous CSO sediment. The CSO sediment contains poop, PCBs, PAHs, & heavy metals. Photo courtesy of MWRA

 
Update to the Alewife Master Plan

Twenty years ago, the MDC released the Alewife Reservation & Alewife Brook Master Plan, intended to improve the MDC-owned reservation and brook corridor. It envisioned restoring habitat, improving hydrological function, enhancing recreational and educational opportunities, and improving connections to other natural areas. Since then, climate change and widespread development have exacerbated both flooding and combined sewer overflow discharges of sewage into the brook. It is time to update the Master Plan to assess and reprioritize recommended projects based on current conditions. The update should result in Green Stormwater Infrastructure and Indigenous historical signage. The Master Plan Update will allow for securing of funding to implement the improvements needed to protect and maintain this popular open space.

Plans for Removal of Alewife Brook Concrete Channel, page 42 from MDC 2003 Alewife Master Plan Courtesy Massachusetts State Archives

Alewife Brook sewage meeting held in December

Another public meeting to discuss Alewife sewage-pollution control was held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, on Zoom.

Those involved want you to come to this public meeting, organized by the cities of Somerville and Cambridge as well as the MWRA.

Click for our secret 3-point meeting strategy >>

What would you like to see in the new Alewife sewage control plan?

  • An end to sewage pollution?
  • Flooding reduction and mitigation?
  • An end to the MWRA’s sewage smell?
  • A Trash-Free Alewife Brook?
  • New native plants and pollinator gardens?
  • A brook that is boatable?
  • A community canoe launch?
  • River restoration?
  • Clean water that supports wildlife habitat?
  • Restoring the Alewives to a Healthy Alewife Brook?
  • Something else?

 
Letter from Concom Commissioner White

The following letter by David White, of the conservation commission, was sent from Save the Alewife Brook to Len Diggins, Select Board chair, Town Counsel Doug Heim and the town conservation administrator, which has been edited. Below this, see an informative ACMi video:

"Save the Alewife Brook would like to keep you updated on the progress associated with our efforts to advocate for desperately needed improvements to the Alewife Brook. First, regarding the terrible odor:

"Over the summer, on our day trip to visit the MWRA’s sewer system, Save the Alewife Brook’s David Stoff inquired about odor control on the Alewife Greenway, specifically at the Alewife Brook Sewer siphon manhole along the path near Bicentennial Park. As a result of Stoff’s inquiry, the MWRA sealed the manhole cover with clear caulking.

"This $5 solution worked! Now it doesn’t stink of sewage around this one manhole. The odor from the sewer system causes a gag reflex and ruins many nice walks in our park. There is potential for much more odor control to be done as it is still extremely smelly in other areas around the Alewife Brook.

"Second, regarding the 2019 CSO variances (permits to pollute through sewage pollution discharges) and the new Long-Term Alewife CSO Control Plan:

"The 2019 Alewife Brook CSO variances expire on Aug. 31, 2024. A requirement of the variances is that a control plan be in place to improve conditions. As you are aware, the process has begun to create a new CSO control plan. However, the Alewife CSO permittees (Cambridge, Somerville and MWRA) have recently requested a 36-month deadline extension for completion of the plan. [An accompanying PDF, which is not included here, contains the recent letters from Cambridge, Somerville and MWRA to Mass DEP].

"Cambridge, Somerville and MWRA have promised to use this additional 36 months to develop a sewer infrastructure and performance model that includes the projected impacts of climate change on precipitation in the coming decades. This consideration of future climate change for CSO control is something that has never been done before. If the owners of the CSOs follow through on this promise, it will be a huge win for Alewife Brook!

"There are many great cities in the world facing the same problem with combined sewer-overflow pollution in their rivers and lakes, including London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C., among many other old cities. No other city is using a CSO model that includes climate-change projections. This would mean that Cambridge, Somerville and MWRA could be world leaders in the fight to combat the effects of climate change. It would be revolutionary.

"Save the Alewife Brook refuses to allow 36 months go by without any tangible progress to mitigate the severe health risks associated with the deprecated state of the Alewife Brook. Therefore, Save the Alewife Brook will soon respond to the request from Cambridge, Somerville, and MWRA with reasonable demands for immediate improvements." 

ACMi video shows what's involved in cleaning up Alewife:

HONK!Fest sounds alarm

On Saturday, Oct. 9, about 30 supporters of Save the Alewife Brook marched in HONK! Fest from Davis Square in Somerville to Harvard Square in Cambridge.  

About – HONK! (honkfest.org)

Supporter Beth Melofchik reported: "We carried GHOST FISH and wore bright red T-shirts emblazoned with Alewife. 

"We were about midway in the line-up of bands, marching with Puppeteers Cooperative and in front of the Extraordinary Rendition Band from Providence Rhode Island. It was great fun, dancing with our GHOST FISH and chanting, “STOP DUMPING SEWAGE IN THE ALEWIFE BROOK!” along Mass. Ave., into Harvard Square.

"We distributed hundreds of stickers and collected more signers for our email petition to end Alewife Brook sewage pollution and flooding in the face of climate change.  Save the Alewife Brook – environmental health is community health >>

"Thanks to Kristin Anderson for organizing and creating the Ghost Fish and T-shirts, and special appreciation to Cecily Miller and the HONK organizers for inviting Save the Alewife Brook to participate."

Miller, from Arts Arlington, has made this video to explain the HONK!Fest and Elm Street Arts table.

EPA mentions dredging 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s mention of dredging the Alewife Brook in its response to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s April 2022 draft scope for the new CSO control plan has revived the discussion about the role removing sediment from the Alewife Brook can play in restoration and flood prevention efforts.


Boston Globe takes note in kayak piece >>


The EPA recommends MWRA include dredging the Alewife Brook as part of the alternatives analysis for the new Control Plan.

July 9 2022. On the Alewife, Kristin Anderson of Save the Alewife Brook sets out to measure sediment depth.On the Alewife July 9, Kristin Anderson sets out to measure sediment depth.

Elimination of combined sewer overflows and sewage pollution in the brook must be achieved through continued sewer separation in Cambridge and Somerville.

But sewer separation means removing stormwater from the sanitary sewer system. Once it’s removed, that stormwater has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the Alewife Brook.

Increasing the amount of stormwater flowing to the Alewife Brook could increase the threat of area flooding. Therefore, flood mitigation measures must be taken alongside sewer separation.

The EPA suggests that one way to accommodate an increase in stormwater would be to increase the Alewife Brook’s storage and flow capacity by dredging the channelized portion of the brook.

Time dredge brook to increase capacity, prevent flooding

In its response letter, the EPA quotes a 2005 U.S. Geological Survey study that estimated sediment volume in the Alewife Brook at approximately half a million cubic feet. In 1988, one of many moments when the idea of dredging the Alewife was floated, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC – precursor of both MWRA and the Department of Conservation & Recreation) commissioned a study to determine what was in the sediment. This was necessary to determine how to dispose of the dredged material. When testing indicated that the material was toxic enough to require disposal at a Certified Waste Disposal Site, the MDC’s enthusiasm for dredging faded. If EPA are now endorsing consideration of dredging, then it may be an idea whose time has finally come.

Our Measurements Suggest a Doubling of Sediment Since 1988

Save the Alewife Brook's David White and David Stoff reel in the Alewife's Save the Alewife Brook's David White and David Stoff reel in the Alewife's "catch-o-the-day": a microwave oven.

On a fine summer day in July, three members of Save the Alewife Brook set out to measure the depth of sediment at the 1988 testing sites. Equipped with a precision hand-crafted measuring tool – a 5-foot steel rod with a ruled scale ground onto it – and a hand-built canoe. We dropped the boat in at John Wald Park in Cambridge.

It’s no surprise that the amount of sediment has increased since 1988, given three decades of sewage discharges, and infrequent removal of branches and trash. At the center of the Little River opposite MWRA’s CSO MWR003 (‘CCSO’ on the map), our tester measured a sediment depth of approximately 36 inches. That’s double the 18 inches recorded in 1988. Further upstream, adjacent to 20 Acorn Drive (‘AB03’), the sediment measurement was 48 inches. That’s an increase of 18 inches over the 1988 measurement.

Now is the time to consider dredging the Alewife Brook. Removing the sediment could provide immediate benefits in terms of capacity, flow, and improved water quality. Federal Infrastructure Law funds can get this done.

References:

EPA’s May 11 2022 Response to MWRA’s Draft Scope of Work

MWRA Updated CSO Control Plan – Draft Scope of Work and Schedule 04/01/2022

2005 USGS Sediment Study of Rivers and Lakes

1988 Little River / Alewife Brook Sediment Survey

READ MORE ON OUR BLOG >>

February through June: Alewife Brook sewage campaign updates

 


This viewpoint, from Save the Alewife, was published Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, and updated updated April 18, 2023.

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