With news this week of a consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Quincy calling for that city to spend in excess of $100 million to cut pollution flowing into adjoining rivers and Boston Harbor, we see continuing progress on this long-standing problem.

Quincy and many older cities have long used nearby waterways as dumping grounds for overflows from sewage treatment systems that get overloaded during heavy storms. This newspaper has covered the problem of combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, in the Merrimack Valley, and we applaud efforts to spend money to stop this environmentally damaging trend.

A year ago, Manchester, New Hampshire, and the EPA reached a similar agreement that calls for the city to spend $231 million to bring Manchester’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure into modern standards.

Just this week, Congresswoman Lori Trahan testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the need for more federal investment to prevent CSOs from polluting waterways including the Merrimack River.

CSOs are a product of combined sewer and stormwater systems, which exist in more than 800 communities across the country, including Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill.

Earlier this year, Trahan reintroduced the Stop Sewage Overflow Act to expand and improve the EPA’s Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant program, which supports the planning, design and construction of projects to reduce CSOs. She has also successfully pushed alongside fellow officials from communities along the Merrimack River for increased EPA investments in the grant program.

In the meantime on Beacon Hill, Reps. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, and Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, are proposing a special committee to guide federal dollars from an infrastructure and jobs bill into projects to cap combined sewer outfalls. “When this money becomes available, we want to make sure we have shovel-ready projects,” Mirra told colleagues in a hearing this week.

Fixing these ancient systems will cost billions of dollars and take decades. The agreement reached in Quincy, for example, requires that work be done 13 years from now.

Still, each investment is significant. Couple the agreements in Manchester and Qunicy with efforts to set up a CSO notification system along the Merrimack and the future looks brighter – and the rivers, cleaner.

 

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