When Julia Blatt of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance would tell people people about efforts to pass a law requiring public notification of sewage discharged into waterways, the question she most commonly heard in response was "Isn't that already a law?"
"Fortunately, now it is," Blatt said during a virtual event Gov. Charlie Baker held to celebrate his signing of that law.
Each year, about 3 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage is discharged to the state's waterways, Blatt said.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat involved in the bill's passage, said that the law will help people stay safe by letting them know when sewage that may carry bacteria or viruses is in the water where they plan to kayak, fish or otherwise engage in recreation.
The new law includes a requirement that the Department of Environmental Protection provide information about discharge notifications on its website. Sewer system operators would need to issue public advisories within two hours of a discharge and every eight hours until the discharge has ended, with a final advisory within two hours of its conclusion.
Baker said the legislation is "one of those bills that gets to your desk and you're glad it got there," and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said it's an issue where awareness and a quick response are important.
Polito said it's also important to support municipalities as they maintain and replace aging infrastructure, a task that communities don't always have the resources necessary to execute. She brought up the climate bill Baker filed last session that would increase the excise tax paid on real estate transfers to help fund infrastructure designed to cope with the impacts of climate change.