Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Sued Over Failure to Enforce Clean Water Act Standards

Wednesday marked the filing of a suit in the District of Massachusetts by plaintiff Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. (CLF) against defendant Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and civil penalties alleges that the MWRA has failed to adhere to their responsibilities through their inaction on EPA violations by industrial users.

The plaintiff is described as an environmental advocacy organization operating in the New England area.

The responsibilities of the MWRA include “monitoring and treating the polluted wastewater of over 5,500 hospitals, manufacturers, and other industrial users in Greater Boston before it is discharged into Massachusetts Bay.” The National Pretreatment Program emphasizes the importance of the MWRA in protecting water quality.

The MWRA’s NPDES permit includes an enforcement response plan that provides direction for how the MWRA is to respond to industrial user noncompliance. The enforcement response plan states that instances of noncompliance must be met with an enforcement response by the MWRA.

The defendant’s NPDES permit provides effluent limitations, monitoring requirements and other conditions that they must adhere to and enforce. The MWRA is required to ensure continued compliance among significant industrial users and enforce specific effluent limits, which the plaintiff maintains they have violated. Any violation of an NPDES permit is also a violation of the Clean Water Act.

Despite this, the MWRA “has taken no enforcement action in response to at least 70 instances of noncompliance by significant industrial users” since the beginning of 2017. The plaintiff contends that the MWRA continually takes informal enforcement action as opposed to formal notices of violation which are required by the EPA. This enforcement failure has led to pollutant parameters concerning cyanide, lead, mercury, and more being violated.

Further, the defendant operates a treatment plant on a peninsula in the Boston Harbor that allegedly discharges millions of gallons of effluent into the Massachusetts Bay. The effluent purportedly contains arsenic, cyanide, mercury, lead, copper, and zinc.

The CLF acknowledges that although information on the shortcomings of the MWRA are publicly available, MWRA’s failures are more extensive and pervasive than those reports indicate.

The plaintiff asserts that the misconduct of the defendant “violates the Clean Water Act, contributes to water quality degradation, and harms Conservation Law Foundation’s members.” The complaint cites counts of failure to enforce, failure to comply with the enforcement response plan in response to significant noncompliance, failure to escalate enforcement response, and failure to assess penalties. The Conservation Law Foundation is seeking favorable declaratory judgment, and injunction requiring the defendant to remediate all violations, the imposition of civil penalties on MWRA, litigation fees, and any other damages that justice may require.