CT city wastewater collection system to reduce raw sewage discharges in new settlement

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Dec. 27, 2013 -- A major settlement aims to reduce raw sewage illegally discharged into the environment across West Haven, Conn., from the city's wastewater collection system. The agreement involves federal and state regulators including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, and the city itself.

Under terms of the settlement, West Haven will reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from its wastewater collection system, which previously has been discharged to area waterways including New Haven Harbor and the Long Island Sound, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The city will also pay a fine of $125,000 to be split equally between the U.S. and the state of Connecticut. Because the state law allows for "penalties" to be used to fund environmental projects, its half of the penalty ($62,500) will be paid into a fund to be used to pay for environmentally beneficial projects.

In addition, West Haven will implement an operations and maintenance program and a long-term preventative maintenance program to ensure the city's sanitary collection system remains properly functioning. The city must also implement a program to reduce the amount of fats, oils and grease that permeates the collection system from restaurants. The introduction of these waste products into the sanitary collection system often accumulate, causing blockages and resulting in illegal discharges of sewage into streets, surface waters and even basements of homes and businesses.

Finally, the settlement requires the city to conduct modeling, investigations and assessments necessary to determine how best to reduce extraneous flow from entering the sanitary collection system. Further, government officials had been working closely with members of West Haven's previous administration, to resolve these violations and enter into the consent decree. Staff from the office of new Mayor Edward O'Brien have indicated their recognition of the importance of eliminating sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) by implementing the terms of the settlement agreement.

EPA's investigations had documented that West Haven reported over 300 discharges of sewage from its collection system between January 2007 and June 2011. The discharges occurred primarily during wet-weather when the capacity of the wastewater collection system was exceeded by groundwater and rainwater that infiltrates the system. Blockages in the collection systems, particular from fats, oil, and grease, have also resulted in dry-weather raw sewage overflows.

Properly designed, operated and maintained sanitary sewer systems collect and convey sewage to a wastewater treatment facility prior to discharge. However, discharges of raw sewage from municipal sanitary sewers can occur. These types of discharges, called sanitary sewer overflows, have a variety of causes, including insufficient conveyance and treatment capacity that occurs, in part, due to clean water that infiltrates into collection systems through defects in the system or clean water that is improperly discharged directly to wastewater collection systems through cross connections with storm sewers and by individual homeowners through sump pumps, roof leaders or down spouts, yard and foundation drains.

Sanitary sewer overflows also occur due to the improper discharge of fats, oils and grease to the collection system, debris deposits and root intrusion associated with improper system operation and maintenance, electrical and mechanical failures and vandalism. The untreated sewage from these overflows can contaminate our waters, causing serious water quality problems. Raw sewage discharges can carry bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause life-threatening ailments such as cholera, dysentery, infections, hepatitis, and severe gastroenteritis.

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