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The Town of Swampscott, Massachusetts Clean Water Act Settlement

Sep 18, 2015

The Town of Swampscott entered into a Consent Decree today agreeing to pay a $65,000 civil penalty and to take critical remedial measures to address pollution the Town discharged into the ocean near local beaches.

Overview of Company

The Town of Swampscott, Massachusetts owns and operates a municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4). The Town is authorized under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge stormwater to waters of the United States through its MS4 provided it complies with all provisions of the permit.


The Town violated Section 301 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the terms and conditions of its NPDES permit. The violations include the discharge of untreated wastewater containing pollutants, including sewage, from the Town’s MS4 outfalls into Nahant Bay and Massachusetts Bay. The Town’s violations of its NPDES permit include its failure to implement control measures required by the permit to minimize the discharge of pollutants from the MS4 included the following:

  • Failure to effectively prohibit, through an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism, non-storm water discharges into the system;

  • Failure to develop and implement a program to identify and eliminate illicit connections and discharges to the MS4, including discharges of sewage;

  • Failure to adopt an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism to require sediment and erosion control at construction sites; and,

  • Failure to adopt an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism to address post- construction stormwater runoff from new development and redevelopment sites. 

Injunctive Relief

The Consent Decree requires the Town to:

  • Effectively prohibit non-stormwater discharges into the MS4 through an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism enacted and passed by the Town;

  • Identify and eliminate unauthorized discharges of non-stormwater including sewage through its MS4 to waters of the United States in accordance with the timeframes established by the Consent Decree;

  • Design and implement infrastructure improvements necessary to prevent non-stormwater, including contaminated flows from the Town’s sanitary sewer underdrain system, from entering the MS4;

  • Require construction site operators to implement sediment and erosion control at construction sites through an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism enacted and passed by the Town;

  • Develop and implement construction site inspection procedures and an enforcement program and procedures to ensure compliance with the Town’s sediment and erosion control ordinance; and, 

  • Require developers to manage post-construction stormwater runoff at new and redevelopment projects through an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism enacted and passed by the Town. 

Pollutant Reductions

Implementation of the Consent Decree will result in the following estimated annual pollutant reductions:

  • 365 pounds of total suspended solids;

  • 349 pounds of biological oxygen demand;

  • 57 pounds of Total Nitrogen; and

  • 8 pounds of Total Phosphorous.

Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

Sewage discharged through the Town’s MS4 contains various pollutants, including bacteria and other pathogens, and threatens public health and the environment. Swampscott’s discharges from its MS4 outfalls have persistently exceeded the Massachusetts Water Quality Standards for fecal coliform, E. Coli, and/or Enterococcus bacteria. Other pollutants of concern include:

  • Total suspended solids (TSS) – TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, stormwater runoff, or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.

  • Biological oxygen demand (BOD) – BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.

  • Nutrients – Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. These blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

Civil Penalty

The Town will pay a civil penalty of $65,000.

State Role

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a nominal party to the Consent Decree pursuant to section 309(e) of the CWA.  

Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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