The City of Lowell announced it has reached agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Justice Department, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on a settlement that will result in improved water quality and management for residents of Lowell and surrounding communities. The settlement, known as a consent decree, creates a path forward after years of negotiation between the City and the federal government, allowing the City to efficiently and effectively continue the work that began decades ago to separate the stormwater drains from the sanitary sewage system designed over a century ago.
Per the agreement, the City will take numerous steps to reduce the future release of sewage and stormwater into the Merrimack River and other connected bodies of water. This includes greater separation of sewage and stormwater as they are processed through the treatment facility to reduce discharge; the establishment of a program to detect and eliminate improper sewage discharge in the stormwater system; and the creation of City Ordinances to mitigate stormwater runoff associated with construction sites.
Work on this two-phase project is expected to occur between 2025-2031 and is estimated to cost $195 million. The agreement also includes a monetary penalty of $200,000 related to historic infractions. The City will work closely with the state and federal delegations to secure federal and state funding to cover as much of the mandated work as possible.
“This has been an issue since 1988 and we are glad to have it resolved so we can move forward on the path to cleaner water and improved management for Lowell residents,” said Thomas A. Golden, Jr., City Manager of the City of Lowell. “Our priority is now working with our partners on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill to cover as much of this cost as possible through relevant funding sources. Although this work is unquestionably important, the expense represents a considerable challenge that we cannot meet alone. We will explore all available options.”
“Clean water and effective management of runoff is vital for any community and takes on increased importance for our residents as a Tier 3 Environmental Justice community,” said Daniel P. Rourke, Mayor of the City of Lowell. “Last year’s record rainfall demonstrated the importance of a functional water management system, and that need will persist as we continue to grapple with the impacts of climate change. We are grateful to have gained clarity on the path to implementing these much-needed improvements.”
“This agreement is a necessary step to unlock access to federal water infrastructure funds that will be critical in supporting major upgrades to Lowell’s century old sewer system,” said Congresswoman Lori Trahan. “I commend City Manager Golden and Mayor Rourke for continuing their work to position the City to compete for the federal funds we need from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
The consent decree was reached following months of negotiations and will allow the City to carry out further work on updating its sewer system with a focus on the Centralville area. Since 2003, sewer separation projects have been completed over 1,150 acres of land including the Highlands, Sacred Heart, Acre, and Pawtucketville neighborhood through an investment of $105 million. These projects have resulted in reduced flooding in the areas, serving as an additional quality of life improvement for many Lowell residents.
The City is looking to engage the public to improve project planning and collect resident feedback. In addition to feedback on public documents and at public meetings, the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility has launched a resident survey to capture first-hand experiences with the sewer and drainage systems.