Conservation Law Foundation Seeks Stricter Controls on Nitrogen Pollution in Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District to Restore Water Quality in Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Brian Barth

Appeal Filed in First Circuit Court to Challenge Current EPA Permit
For Failure to Comply with Clean Water Act

Karen Wood, CLF, (978) 857-5389 or 617) 850-1722,
Tricia Jedele, CLF, (401) 787-3370,

BOSTON, MA September 28, 2010 –In an effort to force the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District to comply with the federal Clean Water Act and to achieve the water quality standards established for  the waterways downstream of the District – particularly the Blackstone River, as well as Rhode Island’s Upper Seekonk River and Narragansett Bay – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has challenged the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by EPA Region 1 in August, 2008. CLF, which filed an appeal of the permit Monday in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, will argue that EPA’s current permit for the District, which requires levels of 5mg/l for nitrogen, is not sufficient to meet state water quality standards.

“Inadequate nitrogen control in the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District has devastating consequences downstream, with the worst effects being seen in Narragansett Bay,” said Tricia K. Jedele, director of CLF’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center. “The Clean Water Act requires that the most aggressive action available be taken to comply with the state water quality standards established by the law. The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District must be held accountable for implementing the necessary controls on pollutants at the source to restore the water quality in the Blackstone and Narragansett Bay.”

The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District is one of the largest wastewater treatment facilities in New England, serving Worcester, MA and several surrounding communities. The facility discharges over 50 million gallons of nitrogen-laden water every day into the Blackstone River, which flows south through Massachusetts into the Rhode Island portion of the Blackstone, then the Seekonk River,  and ultimately Narragansett Bay. Excessive nitrogen has caused severe degradation of all the impacted water bodies, including toxic algae blooms, widespread loss of eel grass meadows – critical habitat for fish and other marine life – and even massive fish kills.

In August, 2010, CLF sued the EPA for failure to control nitrogen pollution on Cape Cod, where inadequately-treated wastewater – largely from septic systems – flows into the region’s fragile bays and estuaries. As in Worcester, the problem has been known for decades, but progress on solutions has been slow while Cape towns debate how to implement them.

The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District has fought vociferously to avoid stricter controls on nitrogen. However, a 2004 study by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Office of Water Resources* states that even the limit of technology, which at 3mg/l for nitrogen, is another order of magnitude more stringent than the existing permit, would not be enough to meet water quality standards.

Jedele added, “The science tells us that the District falls far short of what can be done and must be done to comply with the law.  We cannot settle for small steps. Compliance with the Clean Water Act is not optional.”

The Conservation Law Foundation ( works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England. CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vital communities in our region. Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

*“Evaluation of Nitrogen Targets and Wastewater Treatment Facility Load Reductions for the Providence and Seekonk Rivers”, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Office of Water Resources (December 2004)