Mirra said there are dozens of outfalls in Massachusetts, and capping them will require multiple projects, large and small, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars. “We’re confident that there will be money for this,” he told the panel. “When this money becomes available, we want to make sure we have shovel-ready projects.” Kelcourse said aside from fouling one of the state’s largest rivers, the discharges into the Merrimack River have an impact on the region’s economy, especially during the busy summer months.
Reps. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, and Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, have filed a proposal to create a new state commission to study the feasibility and costs of replacing CSO’s along the Merrimack, Mystic and Connecticut rivers. But the possibility that a windfall in federal funding could be coming to Massachusetts from a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill pending in Congress has some state lawmakers seeing an opportunity.
Testifying during a hearing of the Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Tuesday, Mirra said the state could be getting federal funding from the infrastructure plan and needs to have projects ready to go when money is made available. Federal regulators ordered local governments in the early ’90s to come up with plans to deal with the problem by either controlling discharges or replacing the systems. Despite that, a fix has remained elusive amid the high costs and complications of closing off the culverts.
An estimated 600,000 people get their drinking water from the Merrimack River, including 80,000 in Lawrence.A 201 5 study found a spike in emergency room visits due to gastrointestinal illnesses following sewage discharges into the river. Raw sewage also causes algae blooms, which can be toxic to people and deprive water bodies of oxygen, killing fish and other marine life. Untreated sewage carries pathogens such as fecal coliform and other bacteria that can cause dysentery, hepatitis and other gastrointestinal diseases.
Environmentalists say large and frequent overflows pose health risks to boaters and swimmers, as well as communities that draw drinking water from rivers hit with the discharges. “It turns people away,” he told the committee. “It turns people away from the beautiful harbor in Newburyport, away from the beaches in Salisbury, and other communities that depend on those tax dollars.
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