Massachusetts fines city for illegal sewage discharge into Lake Quinsigamond

(UC) — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the city of Worcester have reached a settlement following the unauthorized discharge of approximately six million gallons of untreated wastewater to Lake Quinsigamond that occurred in February 2022.

Under the agreement, the city will conduct a forensic evaluation of its Lake Avenue Pump Station, submit a report with a long-term plan and schedule for improvements to the pump station, and update its response plan for notifications and coordination with stakeholders around the lake. The city must implement the modifications on a schedule approved by MassDEP and will pay a $13,000 penalty to the state.

In February 2022, a mechanical failure of one of the four pumps flooded out the pump station in a matter of minutes. The flooding of the building caused an electrical failure of the other three pumps at the station. With no pumps operating to send the wastewater to the treatment plant, untreated sewage flowed directly into Lake Quinsigamond, which is in both Worcester and Shrewsbury and is within a designated Environmental Justice area. The unauthorized discharge of untreated wastewater is a violation of the state Clean Water Act.

The Worcester Department of Public Works & Parks notified MassDEP of the pump station failure and took immediate measures to return the station to service. The Worcester Lakes & Ponds Program notified the public of the sewage release and advised residents to avoid contact with the waterbody due to elevated levels of E. coli bacteria. The discharge continued until the evening of the next day. The city has since installed an emergency backup pumping system at the station and has made additional improvements.

The Lake Avenue Pumping Station is on the banks of Lake Quinsigamond at 83 Lake Avenue in Worcester. The pump station is the largest in the city’s sewer system with the capacity to pump up to 20 million gallons of wastewater per day. The station was constructed in 1935 and upgraded in 2015 to increase capacity. Before the 2015 upgrade, the pump station had a history of overflows into Lake Quinsigamond because of inadequate capacity. Even after the capacity improvements, the pump station has had three significant overflow events into the lake, primarily due to mechanical failures.

“The City of Worcester is conducting a full evaluation of the station to identify and prevent future sewage discharges to this important recreational water resource,” Mary Jude Pigsley, director of MassDEP’s Central Regional Office in Worcester, said. “The repeated discharges from this pump station have caused significant temporary impacts to Lake Quinsigamond and warranted a penalty, in addition to the corrective measures.”

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