Press Releases

Representatives Trahan and Moulton Introduce Combined Sewer Overflow Alert Bill—STOP CSO Act

Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA-03) and Seth Moulton (D-MA-06) introduced the Sewage Treatment Overflow Prevention through Community Sanitation Outreach (STOP CSO) Act of 2019, or The STOP CSO Act.

The STOP CSO Act would require local governments to alert residents within 4 hours if stormwater overwhelms sewage plants and carries sewage into rivers and watersheds. The bill also allows state and local governments use grant funding to create the alert system.

The Merrimack River is a vital resource, supplying drinking water and other economic benefits to hundreds of thousands of people across the region. That is why the current state of contamination is so concerning. There’s no question that the federal government has an obligation to help municipalities like Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Manchester make urgently needed upgrades to their sewer infrastructure to help prevent this sort of pollution, which is why I have a bill to do just that. But we can’t wait, we must take precautions to alert residents when contaminants are released into the river possibly jeopardizing their health and wellbeing. That is why I am proud to join with Rep. Moulton to create a fast and reliable warning system to keep the public aware of risks they may be facing,” Trahan said.   

“The only place where the people of Massachusetts should have to think about dirty water is at TD Garden and Fenway Park,” Moulton said. “Washington’s failure to address the nation’s outdated infrastructure means more than just awful commutes--it threatens people’s health and our economy. Until our leaders find the willingness to work together, they should at least create alert systems so we know when hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage are flowing into our region’s rivers.”

Combined sewer overflow occurs in cities and towns with archaic wastewater infrastructure systems. In those systems, everything that goes down the drain in houses and on streets flows into one network of pipes with industrial wastewater. The pipes carry the water to a wastewater treatment plant, where the water is cleaned and then drained into local waters. But, during heavy rains, storm water overwhelms the processing system, and a combination of untreated sewage and stormwater is released into local rivers.

According to estimates from the Merrimack River Watershed Council, six urban treatment plants dumped 770 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Merrimack River last year. That’s a major problem because 600,000 Bay Staters rely on the river as a source of drinking water. As climate change brings more severe storms, the number is expected to grow.

When an overflow happens, federal law requires municipalities operating wastewater plants to inform the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials within four hours. Congress does not currently require public notification.

According to WBUR, 14 states require their local governments to notify the public when a discharge happens. The lack of uniformed notifications is an acute problem in bodies of water that form the border between two states. The Merrimack River, for example, splits Massachusetts and New Hampshire where state and local laws vary widely.

The STOP CSO Act would require public notifications to occur within four hours of an overflow event anywhere in the country. 

Trahan and Moulton wrote the bill in collaboration with leaders at the state and local level who are also pushing for action on combined sewer overflow issues.

This is the second in a pair of bills on which Trahan and Moulton have partnered. Earlier this year, Rep. Trahan introduced the Stop Sewage Overflow Act with Rep. Moulton as an original sponsor. The bill would expand and improve the EPA’s Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant program. The program awards federal grants to states and municipalities for the planning, design, and construction for combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, or stormwater management.