Everything, Everywhere, All at Once!
Clamming, Rockland Sewer and the Weymouth NAS Redevelopment
You probably cannot imagine how Rockland’s Wastewater Treatment plant and the redevelopment of the Weymouth Naval Air Station (NAS) would have the potential to impact your life but if you like to eat clams, swim or boat in the North and South Rivers they just might. From January 10 to January 18, 2024, after another pattern of rainy weather, the Rockland Wastewater Treatment plant discharged 6,895,845 gallons of partially treated sewage into French’s Stream, a tributary located almost 15 miles upstream in the North River watershed. We know this because of a law that we helped to pass in 2021 along with our watershed colleagues that requires public notification of sewer overflows. Granted this partially treated sewage is likely mostly freshwater from the infiltration and inflow (I/I) of rain and groundwater into the sewer pipes, but until more water quality testing of the effluent is done, the Division of Marine Fisheries (MassDMF) is forced to close the downstream shellfish beds in the North and South Rivers for 21 days. MassDMF is working to obtain further sampling to confirm if the closures are truly needed from this discharge. On February 5th, the clam flats should be reopened if there are no further spills. Last year the beds were closed twice due to Rockland’s sewer overflows – in January and March – removing 20% of the days available for the public to recreationally harvest shellfish in the rivers.
Clearly these overflows are not acceptable nor are they news. In fact, the NSRWA appealed Rockland’s Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge permit back in 2006 in an effort to get the town to address their aging treatment plant and leaky sewer pipes. It wasn’t until 2022 that the US EPA decided not much had been done to remedy the situation and issued an order to comply to Rockland. Since then, to all of our observations, Rockland’s Sewer Commission has been working hard to get their house in order by moving forward with engineers to review options for upgrading the aging plant, identifying and working to remove I/I, placing a moratorium on sewer connections over 440 gpd (gallons per day), requiring an 11:1 ratio of I/I be removed from the system for every gallon of sewer demand, and reviewing options for alternative discharge sites other than French’s Stream, the tributary to the North River that the plant currently discharges to.
Now comes the current proposal to redevelop the Weymouth Naval Air Station property that lies within the towns of Abington, Rockland and Weymouth. The redevelopment of this property has had fits and starts and one of the major sticking points has been providing water and sewer in a region that lacks infrastructure capacity for either. The current Notice of Project Change under review by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (comments are due January 30) proposes to have each town provide sewer for the portion of the redevelopment that lies within its boundaries. In Rockland’s case, that is estimated to be approximately 400,000 gallons per day from 3,636 residential proposed single bedroom units. At an 11:1 ratio of I/I removal rate that means the proponents would need to find 4.4 MGD (million gallons per day) in the system! This system is permitted to discharge 2.5 MGD. The current assessment by Rockland’s engineers is that they might optimistically be able to cost effectively find and remove 367,000 gpd and that the entire system has approximately 2.72 MGD of I/I in total. I/I is notoriously hard to find and fix! Rockland also has other developments on the waiting list who wish to hook up to the system that must find and remove 1.1 MGD of I/I in the system with the 11:1 ratio.
Clearly Rockland’s wastewater system is over capacity and any future developments need to find an alternative solution for wastewater discharge other than French’s Stream and the current pipe that is leading to the North River. It would seem even with current I/I reduction goals we may be unable to shellfish when it rains for some time to come unless an alternative solution is pursued.
Is there any good news you ask? Maybe. Rockland’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan identifies 6 other sites that may offer opportunities for discharging into the groundwater… a much better option than to a surface water body. One of those sites was the original plan for wastewater to be discharged from the redevelopment project on the Base itself but a PFAS plume in the groundwater prevents discharging wastewater onsite as an option. That leaves 5 other sites. A more ideal solution would be for the developers to work with the town of Rockland to build a new treatment plant and/or discharge to another site that can relieve the current situation for the North River watershed and have the redevelopment help support the cost of upgrading and expanding the system.
The deadline for public comment to MEPA Attention Secretary Rebecca Tepper ℅ Alexander Strysky, firstname.lastname@example.org on the Weymouth NAS Redevelopment project Project #11085R is Tuesday January 30, 2024. The NSRWA will be advocating for what we hope will be a better situation for our watershed and for all involved. At the end of the day a regional solution to the region’s water and wastewater infrastructure issues is needed and we need a regional broker for that.