Belmont Begins, Yet Again, Search to Find Source Polluting Mystic Watershed


Glenn Clancy may not look like Benedict Cumberbatch, but like the hugely popular sleuth the actor plays on BBC television, Belmont’s town engineer will be doing his best Sherlock Holmes as he attempts to find the source of what has been dirtying up a nearby major watershed that has been dogging the town for more than 15 years. 

“Am I confident that we are going to get it this time?” Clancy rhetorically pondered to the Belmontonian after this past Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting.  

“How confident are the Red Sox when they step on the field for a ballgame? We are going in with the idea that we will get it done,” he said.

With a finite budget and state and national environmental regulatory agencies breathing down his neck, Clancy is pinning his hopes on a game of elimination to pinpoint where the worst of the contaminants are coming from and marshal his resources there. 

Belmont has been on the state’s Department of Environmental Protection going back to January 2000 of being noncompliant of acceptable water quality standards leading to pollutants entering the Mystic River Watershed, a collection of rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds that drain an area of approximately 76 square miles and 21 municipalities north of Boston.

And for the past decade, the town has sunk into the ground several million dollars to repair and replace infrastructure to improve the quality of the water entering the system. But the work so far has had little impact on several water sources within Belmont with locations such as the Little River and the Winn’s Brook receiving poor or failing mark for water quality. 

It’s not a mystery what is creating the problem, said Clancy.

“This is strictly about the sanitary sewage system mingling with our stormwater system. So in Belmont, the biggest contributors to this problem are deteriorating sewage pipes to where that sewage is leeching up and finding its way into the storm drain system,” he said. 

The other source is toilets that contractors or homeowners have placed over a storm drain pipe. “While the decaying pipes are our most important issue, we have found 10 to 15 illicit direct connections to the storm drain system that we have already mitigated,” said Clancy. “We expect to discover more with this testing.” 

Clancy, who is also the director of the Office of Community Development, told the Selectmen Monday that the $70,000 (from a total of $200,000 the town approved to seek a solution) to conduct sample testing of 15 outfalls sites to determine which of those are responsible for the majority of pollution being sent into one of the Mystic River watershed tributaries located in Belmont. 

“We’ve done [testing and remedies] two or three times in the past decade with construction work totaling $8 million and the next phase to identify specific problems,” Clancy told the Belmontonian.

“The sampling is the first step in what ultimately will be another construction process,” said Clancy. 

“Once you identify the outfall as ‘dirty,’ you then have to determine where the source of that contamination is coming from,” Clancy told the Belmontonian.

The fix has mostly been lining the deteriorated pipe which “still in a structural condition that allows us to line it with concrete,” he said. If it is too far gone, the main will need replacing. 

If the survey discovers issues with toilets or interior plumbing, “we find a way to work with the property owner to solve the problem whether that is reconnecting a pipe to the proper main or eliminating the source altogether. The conditions will usually dictate the best way to mitigate.” 

And it won’t be cheap; the town could be open to another $4 million to $6 million over several years to make the necessary repairs, according to Clancy.

Saying that he understands the frustration from residents who will end up paying for the repairs, Clancy said the repairs in the past and the future would begin to show results.

“We spent eight million [dollars] plus already, and every dollar of that eight million plus has fixed some problem. I want people to understand while we still have a problem doesn’t mean that the money that has already been spent has not been spent properly. It has fixed problems that we have identified. The challenge that we have more problems that need to be identified and mitigated,” he said.

“I could never look someone in the eye and say this is going to be the time when we get it because I understand the nature of the problem. All we can continue to do is make a good faith effort to find the sources and mitigate them,” said Clancy.