Masshighway Water Pollution Case Goes to Trial Friday: Environmentalists Seeking to Protect Health of Key River Systems - Conservation Law Foundation

Masshighway Water Pollution Case Goes to Trial Friday: Environmentalists Seeking to Protect Health of Key River Systems

Brian Barth Brian Barth

Colin Durrant, CLF Director of Communications

Boston, MA (February 7, 2008) – A case that charges the Massachusetts Highway Department with violating federal clean water laws by dumping polluted stormwater into neighboring rivers and streams will go to trial on Friday at the Moakley Courthouse. At issue is MassHighway’s alleged failure to implement a provision of the federal Clean Water Act requiring them to develop a plan for controlling and cleaning up polluted water that flows off its 4,000 miles of roads and bridges.

In 2006, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), and the Leominster Land Trust (LLT) filed the federal lawsuit to improve water quality in the state’s water bodies after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled for a second time in as many years that the Department’s stormwater cleanup plan was deficient and refused to issue them a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. In 2007, while the case was being prepared for trial, MassHighway re-submitted its plan and EPA ruled it deficient for a third time.

“Rivers, streams and lakes throughout Massachusetts are suffering serious pollution problems. We believe a primary factor to be MassHighway’s refusal to meet the requirements of federal environmental law that they protect water quality in the rivers and streams its highways and facilities discharge into,” said Peter Shelley, director of CLF’s Massachusetts Advocacy Center.

Polluted stormwater is a significant factor in the ongoing failure of Massachusetts’s rivers and lakes to achieve basic water quality standards. Rain water that falls during storms flows off roads picking up pollutants along the way – including oil and grease, toxic metals (such as zinc, nickel, and lead), salt and other de-icing chemicals. Unless steps are taken to control and treat the polluted stormwater, it flows directly from roads into rivers, streams and lakes, affecting the health of the entire ecosystem.

“After heavy rains most sections of the Charles River are deluged by polluted stormwater, rendering it in violation of basic water quality standards for fishing and swimming,” said Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association. “Since the early 1990’s we’ve made significant progress cleaning up the Charles River. Now, the biggest source of pollution to the Charles or any river in the state, is stormwater. Cleaning it up must be among our highest priorities, not only to restore our rivers, but to sustain ourselves.”

In their legal briefs the environmental groups allege a series of deficiencies in MassHighway’s stormwater cleanup plan, which was originally due in March, 2003:

  • Failure to submit a full listing of all water bodies which receive a discharges of polluted stormwater from MassHighway roads and bridges.
  • Failure to identify and develop a plan for improving water quality by adopting best management practices control and treat polluted stormwater.
  • Failure to identify neighboring water bodies that have existing cleanup plans and “pollution budgets” called TMDLs, and failure demonstrate that the polluted stormwater it discharges into those impaired water bodies will be controlled and cleaned up sufficiently to meet the standards of the TMDLs.

“Despite repeated requests by local watershed groups like ours, MassHighway has turned a blind eye to their duty to control and treat the stormwater and trash that flows off their highways and pollutes our public drinking water supplies, river, lakes and streams,” said Peter A. Angelini, executive director of LLT.

In preparing their case the environmental groups pointed to two examples where the plaintiffs allege that MassHighway has compromised the health of water bodies by mismanaging polluted stormwater:

  • CRWA is concerned about apparent untreated stormwater flowing off bridges that cross the Charles River at numerous locations, including several along Interstate 95 (Route 128), Interstate 495, and Route 2.
  • The LLT has documented significant degradation of Leominster’s Monoosnoc Brook and Pierce Pond they allege is the result of MassHighway’s failure to clean up polluted stormwater. They claim that a series of 17 outfalls from Route 2 have contributed large quantities of sediments, trash and pollutants to Pierce Pond, where a huge sand delta has formed at the confluence of Monoosnoc Brook and the Pond.

“In order to protect our drinking water supplies and improve water quality for fish and other river life, all polluters-particularly from our public agencies like MassHighway-must be held accountable and be forced to live up to their responsibility to protect the Commonweath’s water resources,” said CLF’s Peter Shelley.


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 innovaivete strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vibrant 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.

CRWA is one of the nation’s leading research and advocacy watershed organizations, using science, advocacy and the law to protect, preserve and enhance the Charles River and its watershed. For the past decade, CRWA has tracked pollution to the river from polluted stormwater and has focused on technical and policy issues related to stormwater management.

LLT was founded in 1998 to protect and preserve the lands and waters of the Leominster region for their ecologic, historic, and scenic value. Over the past ten years the LLT has worked in a collaborative effort with private and public partners to protect over 1,000 acres of drinking water supply watershed lands.