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'Horror' tour of Alewife Brook sewage outfalls leads to letter plea

UPDATED Nov. 21: This viewpoint was submitted by Precinct 13 Town Meeting member Kristin Anderson, who has been flooded by Alewife Brook, and David White, a Precinct 21 Town Meeting member and the Arlington Conservation Commission. They organized the tour described here. The account of this tour has been updated with a plea to seek federal funding.

Caption: Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A combined sewer overflow.'Tis the season for spooky tours, as Halloween nears, but in a world beset by environmental issues, “spooky” can have another meaning.

That's part of what a group of 20 Arlington residents, including some Town Meeting members, found Saturday, Oct. 16.

View videos of Alewife after Oct. 26 nor'easter

They joined those with Save the Alewife Brook, an environmental group, the host for a frightening look in lovely morning daylight of combined sewer overflows in the Alewife Brook in East Arlington.

 The goals of the group are summarized in a petition that was distributed:

  • During major flood events, the Alewife Brook washes onto the yards and into the homes of Arlington residents. Most of those flood events include sewage-contaminated discharges from the active sewer overflows, known as CSOs, from Cambridge and Somerville. Climate change, with its wetter rainy seasons, more intense storms, and sea level rise, is expected to increase the severity and frequency of these events.
  • The group wants Somerville and Cambridge and the MWRA, to stop discharging sewage pollution into the Alewife Brook by closing the existing CSOs.
  • The group also wants the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to invest in making necessary improvements to the Mystic River and Amelia Earhart Dam so that it is resilient to the effects of climate change.

Here is a link to the petition to Stop Sewage Discharges & Flooding in the Alewife Brook – Save the Alewife Brook and the info sheet,  Both were distributed.

Initial discussion topics included flood-control improvements at the Amelia Earhart Dam and regional climate-change initiatives. Those present reviewed the long history of CSOs events and the improvements that have been completed in the last two decades. Yet CSOs still discharge sewage-polluted waters.

The tour took the group to Cambridge. Hidden behind the round Alewife T parking garage, walkers discovered what marks the start of the Alewife Brook -- the ugly mouth of CAM401A, the first Alewife Brook CSO.

The group, in its website, called the Cambridge’s CAM401A “the most depressing place in the world,” reflecting the comments of a resident.

On Sept. 28, it discharged 1.1 million gallons of untreated sewage-contaminated water into the Alewife Brook during a storm, which drenched the city with 1.6 inches of rain. Four weeks earlier, on Sept. 1, the CSO discharged 2.95 million gallons of untreated sewage-contaminated water.

While observing CAM401A, East Arlington resident David Stoff lamented, “This is the saddest place I’ve ever been.” And then he pointed out that the “floatables” control was not working well – a piece of toilet paper and a condom hung from a dead tree branch in front of the outfall pipe.

The group then headed back along the Alewife Greenway, to find the other active overflows. The walk ended at the worst offender: Somerville’s CSO, named SOM01A.

It was noted that the “floatables” control was not working: toilet paper hung from a dead tree branch in front of the outfall.

The tour also noted that on Sept. 2, 6.07 million gallons of untreated sewage-contaminated water was discharged on a single day, from this CSO.

The walkers indicated that they came away with a better understanding of the continuing pollution problems of Alewife Brook and motivated to work for improvements.

People who are interested in these problems can visit the group’s website and/or join the Google email list for periodic events and updates. Click here and scroll to the bottom >>

Save the Alewife Brook: Write letters seeking ARPA funds

Those involved in the "horror tour" are starting a letter-writing campaign to help attract federal funding to close the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) in the Alewife Brook.  

They need your help.

Please take a few minutes to email or call your state representatives today to them know how important it is to end the sewage pollution in the Alewife Brook. 

Feel free to use this sample letter or, better yet, write your own!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(617) 722-2090
Dear Representative Sean Garballey,  

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
(617) 722-2637 
Dear Representative Dave Rogers,

Thank you so much for your work to secure ARPA funding for controlling Combined Sewer Overflows! The Senate has increased the CSO funding from $100 to $175 million and we hope that the House will support that increase. 

I would like to see some of the ARPA funding go towards closing the Alewife Brook CSOs. During flood events, that unsafe, sewage-contaminated water floods into Arlington homes, yards, and parks. This affects Arlington’s most diverse and vulnerable neighborhoods. And during major flood events, the Alewife Brook can reverse direction, sending sewage-contaminated floodwaters back into Cambridge, towards Cambridge’s most diverse and vulnerable neighborhood, at Rindge Towers. 

It’s important to recognize that Climate Change is upon us now and promises wetter rain seasons, more frequent and severe storms, and sea level rise. We can already see that this is having an impact on CSO discharges in the Alewife Brook. This is why I am writing to you today: we need to prepare for Climate Change now and to mitigate its adverse regional community health problems.  

We would also like you to encourage Cambridge, Somerville and MWRA to use this Federal funding to begin the important planning and implementation work to close the Alewife Brook CSOs. 


More information on the Alewife CSOs is available at


Dec. 9, 2019: Recycling in Arlington: What happens to that mess in your blue bin?

This viewpoint was published Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Kristin Anderson wrote version on the groups' website, and Bob Sprague contributed to this version. It was updated Nov. 2, to add link to videos, as well as Nov. 21, to add a letter plea.

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