Every watershed in southeastern Massachusetts has rivers, streams and estuaries that violate one or more state Surface Water Quality Standards. Although many streams throughout the region have not yet been assessed, almost every river basin in southeastern Massachusetts contains at least one water body that violates water quality standards for:
- Excessive algae growth,
- Turbidity, sedimentation or siltation, and/or
- Low dissolved oxygen.
Of these pollutants, bacteria is the largest and most common problem in most watersheds. In addition, most of our watersheds violate water quality toxins standards. In most, it is mercury found in fish tissue. For the Neponset River, it’s PCBs (also found in fish tissue) and for the Weir River it’s DDT.
The main causes of water pollution include:
- Stormwater Runoff: Pollution to our critical water resources comes mostly from rain water that picks up pollutants as it runs off hard surfaces (known as "stormwater runoff") into rivers, streams, ponds and the wetlands bordering these water bodies.
Stormwater runoff is responsible for about 60% of our water pollution, according to Massachusetts state environmental agencies. This includes rainwater that runs off of lawns and paved surfaces, bringing with it pesticides, dog poop, trash herbicides and oil, gas and trash from streets and parking lots.
- Low Streamflows: Low streamflows can significantly increase water pollution by concentrating pollutants like bacteria and excess nutrients in lower volumes of water (a drop of arsenic in a cup can kill you, but a drop in a lake is perfectly safe).
3. Sewage getting into our waterways from a variety of sources including:
- Illegal connection of sewage pipes to storm drains or directly into waterways
- Sanitary sewer overflows” (i.e., spilling of sewage out of manholes), which turn have many causes, including
- too many people connecting to too small sewer mains, usually as a result of uncontrolled new development;
- Inflow from illegal stormwater connections to sanitary sewer pipes and infiltration of groundwater into old cracked and broken sewer pipes. This can result in too little space in sewage pipes to carry sewage, creating excess pressure, which can pop manholes and spill sewage into nearby land, waters and even houses.
- Inadequately maintained septic systems. The state has strict laws for new septic systems, but no requirement that they be maintained, which is essential.
WAA and its partners are working to get the New England Office of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to set much tougher stormwater management rules for cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth.
In addition to supporting WAA and your local watershed, here are things you can do to reduce water pollution from:
1. Stormwater Runoff:
- Always clean up after your dog and do not dispose of the poop by dropping it in a storm drain, as these empty directly into rivers, streams or ponds.
- Divert rainwater from your driveway onto your lawn instead of letting it flow into the street. Soil itself will reduce most bacteria before it reaches the groundwater.
- Use less fertilizer and pesticides on your lawn and garden; fertilizers with phosphorus are totally unnecessary in Massachusetts, whose soils are already rich in phosphorus.
- Work to get your town and watershed organization to adopt a strict storm water bylaw for new development and redevelopment, and to install pollution reduction technologies to existing storm drains
- Conserve water, especially in the summer when stream flows are lowest
- Get your town to adopt two-day- or even one-day-a-week lawn watering restrictions
- Never water your lawn between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., when most of it evaporates
- Link to “Treat and Recycle Rain Water” under the issue “Improving Stream Flows”
3. Raw Sewage:
- Support funding for your town to find and eliminate illegal connection of sewage pipes to town pipes meant only for storm water.
- If you own a septic system, have it pumped at least once every 3 years (every 2 years is better); ask your town to adopt a bylaw requiring all septic owners to pump this often.
- If your towns sewage pipes ever overflow during rain storms, advocate the adoption of a sewer bank. Sewer banks set fees for new connections and increased flow to sewage pipes. The fees are used to patch up the leaks that lead to rain water clogging up sewage pipes, leaving insufficient room for the sewage.