Thursday, March 1, 2018

Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel Delivers Positive News for Boston Harbor

On Wednesday, February 28th, staff and interns from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay attended a gathering of the Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP) to hear updates on the ongoing monitoring efforts of the Deer Island Treatment Plant outfall pipe. Through the power of monitoring, the panel has been working to understand the effects of discharging clean wastewater from Deer Island out into Massachusetts Bay since the early 90s.

Betsy Reilly kicked off the meeting by giving the history of MWRA's ambient monitoring program at the outfall site and an overview of results from 2017. Based on the 26 years of collected data, there is no evidence that discharge from the outfall pipe is causing any adverse affects in Massachusetts Bay.

Following Reilly, Scott Libby (Battelle) gave an overview of the Alexandrium monitoring effort. There was a threshold exceedance of these red tide-causing plankton in 2017, but despite their high abundance in the bay, the algal bloom is far enough off shore as to not put the public at risk.

Additionally, there was a threshold exceedance phaeocystis, another algae, in 2016. There was no connection between the exceedance and the outfall pipe, and the MWRA and the EPA agreed to remove this threshold. Although there were two algae bloom threshold exceedances in 2016, neither one had serious implications for the health of the bay.

David Wu from the MWRA discussed fecal coliform bacteria and Enterococcus, two bacteria discharged from the outfall pipes with minimal impact on the bay. Dave Taylor showed that there are healthy levels of dissolved oxygen and nitrogen in the bay, and that there have always been elevated ammonium (nitrogen) levels at the outfall, but that even if there was a 50% increase in nitrogen at the site, there would be no negative impacts.

Biodiversity at the outfall site is in great shape, according to Ken Keay.

Flounder have been used as an indicator of water quality because of proclivity to digest sediment from the bay. Flounder used to have a large amount of ulcers on their blindside from poor water quality, but we have seen a substantial reduction in ulcers since the installation of the outfall pipe.

The presentations by members of the panel made one thing abundantly clear: Boston Harbor is in great shape, and we are seeing no negative impacts in Massachusetts Bay from the outfall pipe. With the renewal of the pipe's discharge permit forthcoming, the panel is beginning to look for a new suite of indicators to monitor.

Data on the bay and the outfall pipe are conducted by ambient monitoring, and is reported hourly here.

Monitoring data from 2016 is compiled in this Outfall Monitoring Overview.

After the OMSAP meeting, the Public Interest Advisory Committee (PIAC) briefly convened to discuss possible suggestions for a new monitoring plan and potential stakeholders who might be interested in getting involved with the committee or proposing additions to the monitoring plan.

To learn more about the outfall pipe and the MWRA's work surrounding it, you can visit their website.

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