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Alewife Brook sewage bill moves forward

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

UPDATED Feb. 12: Providing the following account is Kristin Anderson, founder of Save the Alewife Brook, who reported Feb. 11.

Legislators representing Arlington and other affected municipalities have made progress on combined sewer overflow (CSO) legislation aimed at reducting sewage pollution. Late last week, the bill was reported out of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources with favor. This means the bill moves forward.

Passage of the CSO bill, urged by Save the Alewife Brook, would be a major step in reducing sewage pollution — not just in Alewife Brook, but throughout the Boston metropolitan area.

Gene Benson, a supporter of the bill, told YourArlington that the bill is with the House clerk’s office and will most likely be sent to the House Ways and Means Committee. The group won’t know for sure until the House clerk assigns it.

Anderson noted that getting legislation passed is a lengthy process. Getting the bill out of committee with a favorable report is the best next step, Benson added.

Thanks to many

In an email to supporters, Anderson thanked all who helped make this happen, including those who spoke in favor of the bill at the committee hearing, or wrote to the committee, or watched the hearing on the bill, or spoke out in any forum to support ending sewage pollution. She gave a shoutout to our partners at the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Charles River Watershed Association, and the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, who all made strong statements in favor of the bill at the committee hearing.

Thanks go to Reps. Dave Rogers and Adrian Madaro, who are the original sponsors of the legislation and helped get it out of committee, as well as all the other legislators who signed on as co-sponsors. We are grateful also for all that our legislators will do as they continue to push the bill forward through the remainder of the legislative session.

 Sponsors Rogers, left, and Madaro

From left are Sean Garballey, Steve Owens, Patricia Jehlen, Judith Garcia ...

... Rady Mom, Lydia Edwards, Nick Collins, Sal N. DiDomenico, Bruce E. Tarr

Finally, thanks to the cochairs of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Sen. Rebecca Rausch and Rep. Daniel Cahill, who recognized the harm being done by CSOs and the need for strong legislation, and who led the committee to report the bill out with a favorable vote.

Rausch and Cahill

Save the Alewife Brook plans to keep you updated and let you know when and how you can help move it forward for a cleaner Alewife Brook and an end to sewage pollution. 

Alewife Brook noseful for new state environmental official

A storm rolled up the Eastern seaboard into Boston on Dec. 18. This was the day of our Alewife tour with the new commissioner of the Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), Brian Arrigo, and Zach Crowley, his deputy commissioner for policy, public affairs and administration,. The state-owned parkland along the Alewife Brook is managed by DCR, which is why we were so excited about meeting its new commissioner. 

The weather made this a notable meeting and a remarkable opportunity to offer Arrigo a “boots-on-the-ground” view of the flooding and sewage-pollution problems of the Alewife, through the lenses of climate change and equity. 

We might have canceled the walking tour of the Alewife combined sewer overflows (CSOs), except the wind was dying down and we are rugged New Englanders. Besides, it was 60 degrees out, and what’s a little rain?

Zach Crowley, David White, Steven Nutter, Gwen Speeth, Brian Arrigo, Gene Benson, David Stoff in front of the flooded-out Alewife Greenway path. / Kristin Anderson photo

Rain, heron

A little rain in the Alewife, even less than an inch of hard rain, can result in discharges of untreated sewage pollution into the brook. This storm was not so little. Rainfall totaled about 3.5 inches. This resulted in an estimated 1.2 million gallons or more1 of raw CSO sewage pollution into the Alewife Brook.

Our hike began at Broadway and Alewife Brook Parkway. The Alewife Reservation greeted us with hard rain and a chance encounter with a gorgeous Great Blue Heron. Looking lean and hungry, feathers unfluffed by the rain, our heron friend may have been wondering why there were no fish. The answer was just upstream.

Follow your nose to Somerville CSO

The smell of sewage was noticeable as we walked northward toward Somerville’s Tannery Brook Combined Sewer Outfall (a k a OM001A.) Raw sewage from Davis Square had been discharging from the Tannery Brook CSO an hour prior. Toilet paper from a previous storm was hanging in the trees – a violation of minimum control measures required for compliance with Somerville’s NPDES permit.2

Somerville’s Tannery Brook outfall is the Alewife’s worst CSO. It is out of compliance, which is to say that it does not meet the goals set forth 20 years ago by the federal court, as part of the Boston Harbor cleanup court case.3

Sewage flooding Alewife Greenway

We followed the DCR Alewife Greenway toward the MBTA Alewife T station, past another CSO that had been discharging sewage during the storm. We could not see the outfall because the water level was so high.

Soon the path became impassable. The brook overtopped its banks, completely covering the Greenway and sending sewage water all the way up to Boulevard Road. 

Flooded-out homeless encampment

We continued the hike towards Cambridge’s worst Alewife CSO, CAM401A. This CSO is located behind the Alewife T parking garage. It had been dumping raw sewage pollution into the brook before we arrived. On the other side of the brook, just feet from this CSO, we saw a flooded-out, abandoned homeless encampment on MBTA property. The scene was terribly depressing and apocalyptic.

These are the places that people go when they have nowhere else. And they are not safe places to be.

Concern, determination, grit

The new DCR commissioner hiked with us for over two hours, in the wind and rain, to see sewage discharges and flooding because he wants to understand the Save the Alewife perspective of the Alewife Reservation. This level of concern, determination and grit is exactly what the Alewife Brook Reservation needs from the Commonwealth now. 

$28M dam in Mystic announced

The same day as the tour, the DCR announced a $28 million investment to make climate-resiliency improvements at the Amelia Earhart Dam and the Draw Seven Park, to protect a number of cities and towns in future storms from coastal storm surge flooding. This protection includes the Alewife. 

We are grateful that the Healey administration has chosen Arrigo to head the DCR and hope that the Commonwealth will work to make the Alewife Brook area a safe place to live for humans and wildlife. 


1 This is the estimated volume reported by the cities of Somerville and Cambridge, available here >> and here >>

2 See “Floatables” chapter 7, page 7 

3 See section 3.3.1 on page 21  

April 18, 2023: Alewife Brook path cleanup, CSO tour on Earth Day


This news summary, which includes opinion, was published Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, is based on information from Kristin Anderson. It was updated Feb. 12.

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