Municipal Compliance Fact Sheet: Wastewater

What municipal officials need to know to ensure that community wastewater systems are operating effectively and properly protecting public health and the environment.

Table of Contents

What You Should Know About this Issue

Municipalities that operate sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants are subject to the Massachusetts Clean Water Act. As a senior municipal official representing the interests of your community, it is essential that you understand the regulations to ensure that your community's wastewater system is operating effectively and properly protecting public health and the environment.

Examples of Municipal Facilities & Activities Involved

Your community has invested significant funds in sewer collection systems, and these assets need to be operated and maintained so that wastewater receives proper treatment before being discharged. Activities you should consider include:

  • Implement an infiltration and inflow program to identify and remove sources of clean water such as roof leaders, sump pumps, and storm drains, thereby preserving sewer pipe capacity to handle primarily sewage.
  • Regularly inspect and clean collection systems to identify and prevent potential problems before they occur.
  • Regularly inspect pump stations to ensure pumps, alarms, and emergency power sources are operating properly.
  • For more detailed information on preventive maintenance programs, see the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission's "Optimizing Operation, Maintenance, and Rehabilitation of Sanitary Sewer Collection Systems" (link below). 
  • Implement a program to manage the discharge of fats, oil, and grease (FOG) to the sewer system to make sure they are removed at the source to prevent problems downstream (like raw sewage overflows). Adopt a FOG ordinance and regularly inspect facilities that generate grease, such as restaurants, to make sure the owners are operating and maintaining their grease traps properly.

Wastewater Treatment Facilities treat wastewater prior to discharge in accordance with either a groundwater or surface water discharge permit. Some facts you should know about the permits and how MassDEP administers them:

  • MassDEP regularly inspects facilities to make sure they are adequately staffed, operated, and maintained. Ask us for the results of our last inspection of your facilities.
  • The permit requires frequent sampling and monitoring of the discharge to make sure the effluent complies with the permit's conditions.
  • The operator of your facilities must submit the sampling and monitoring results to MassDEP. These results become public records.
  • Regularly maintaining these facilities, which include pump and lift stations, and upgrading or replacing them when appropriate will increase their reliability.

Additional Resources for Examples of Municipal Facilities & Activities Involved

Common Compliance Issues

Sometimes, severe weather, vandalism, inadequate capacity, or improper maintenance or operation can cause raw sewage to discharge directly into receiving waters. These discharges, called sanitary sewer overflows (SSO), are a serious public health and environmental problem because they expose people to viruses and pathogens, cause sewage to back up into basements, damage property and impair water quality. The Sewer System Regulations (314 CMR 7.04(3)) require communities to notify MassDEP within 24 hours after an SSO has occurred. Within five days of an SSO, communities must notify MassDEP as to what caused the overflow, what's been done to protect the public, and what measures have been taken to prevent an overflow from occurring again. The forms you need to send in to MassDEP if an overflow occurs can be found at the link below.

Key Actions for Common Compliance Issues

Environmental Stewardship Tips

The limited capacity of the sewer systems is an issue for many communities. Cities and towns should consider the ability of the sewer system to handle additional discharges before permitting new connections. To optimize the limited capacity of the sewer system, municipalities should implement programs to reduce infiltration and inflow (I/I), conserve water, and promote wastewater reuse.

Technical Assistance, Outreach, Grants & Loans

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program provides state-subsidized 2% interest loans to municipalities for terms up to 30 years. These loans are available for planning and the construction of stormwater infrastructure. Each year, MassDEP selects projects for funding through a competitive procurement process.

Key Actions for Technical Assistance, Outreach, Grants & Loans