Coalition continues legal efforts to stop Marion sewage lagoons from leaking nitrogen pollution

The Coalition has sued the town of Marion to fix its leaking sewage lagoons, which are polluting the town’s waters with harmful nitrogen. This action is the latest chapter seeking to bring an end to a 47-year-old pollution problem.

Aerial view of the sewage lagoons at the Marion wastewater treatment plant and nearby Sippican Harbor.

An aerial view of the leaking sewage lagoons at the Marion wastewater treatment plant (center) and nearby Sippican Harbor. (Image: Aerials Only Gallery)

Marion’s wastewater treatment plant is home to three lagoons – shallow, unlined pits in the ground – where the town puts sewage. It’s the only sewer plant on Buzzards Bay that uses this type of outdated system. The lagoons, which cover 20 acres, were built in 1971.

Because they aren’t lined at the bottom, these lagoons allow contaminants to leach into the ground below them. The town’s own engineers estimate that these lagoons leak as much as 50,000 gallons every day. State law requires a permit for groundwater discharges over 10,000 per day – something the Marion wastewater treatment plant does not have.

Like most Buzzards Bay waterways, Marion’s coastal waters suffer from nitrogen pollution, which is the greatest long-term threat to the Bay’s health. Wastewater is the biggest source of nitrogen pollution to our coastal waters. When it gets in the water, nitrogen pollution fuels the growth of algae that kills eelgrass beds and harms fish and shellfish species.

For 47 years, nitrogen pollution from the Marion sewage lagoons has been soaking into the groundwater and making its way into coastal waters. We’ve witnessed the damaging effects of this type of pollution in our Bay Health data for Aucoot Cove, Sippican Harbor, and the Sippican River.

Since 2010, the Coalition has tried to work with the town, as well as state and federal regulators, to halt this source of harmful pollution. Unfortunately, the federal government under the Trump Administration has backtracked on its commitment to require the town to fix the leaking lagoons.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an updated wastewater permit that, if implemented, would have required the town to line the lagoons or completely eliminate them within the next four years.

Unfortunately, the town of Marion appealed that permit. And this past fall, the EPA reversed its previous decision requiring the town to fully clean up the lagoons. Instead, the town is being required to line only one of the three lagoons – just five of the total 20 acres. The other two lagoons will be allowed to remain operational while the town “studies” how they might be used in the future. This is an inadequate resolution that will not eliminate this needless source of pollution to Buzzards Bay.

In December, the Coalition sent the town of Marion an official notice of our intent to sue to fix these leaking sewage lagoons. And today, we filed our lawsuit in State Superior Court. The town must fix these leaking sewage lagoons and comply with state law.

The Coalition is committed to supporting towns to eliminate pollution in the Bay and find workable solutions to protect our waters. Our approach has yielded extraordinary improvements and strong partnerships with towns such as Wareham and Falmouth to reduce nitrogen pollution at their sewer plants. We look forward to a time when we can work with Marion to resolve these sewer issues through collaboration and not the courts.

Category: On the Bay

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The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

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