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Source: The New Haven Register

New bill would require sewage spills in Long Island Sound be posted online


Posted: April 16, 2012
Originally Published: April 13, 2012

HARTFORD — The state’s environmental watchdog would have to post online notification of sewage spills that contaminate Long Island Sound, close its beaches and affect other bodies of water under a bill that the state Senate unanimously approved this week.

Two New Haven-area senators, Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Environment Committee Senate Chairman Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, both backed the bill and led the effort to pass it, saying it would protect the health and safety of Connecticut residents.

“Senate Bill 88, An Act Concerning the Public’s Right to Know of Sewage Sills” now goes to the House of Representatives, which also must approve it for it to become law.

The bill would require the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to post information on its website about where sewer overflows are likely to occur after severe storms. It also would require DEEP to post notices of sewage spills whenever they happen near a body of water.

“Families have a right to know if their favorite beaches and waterways have been affected by a sewage spill,” said Looney. “This bill will allow families access to this vital information by just a click of the mouse.”

Meyer said that “too often, families arrive at the beach only to find a posted sign warning of unclean water. This bill lets people check the status of bodies of water before they head out for the day,” he said.

Under the bill, the DEEP would have until July 1, 2013 to post a map showing the locations where sewer overflows are likely to occur after a major storm.

DEEP then would have until July 1, 2014 to post online notification of any unanticipated sewage spills that might have taken place, as well as of state waters that have chronic and persistent sewage contamination that poses a public health threat.

The bill would require the DEEP commissioner to consult with the public health commissioner, sewage treatment plant or collection system operators and state and local environmental and health agencies to develop an appropriate sewage spill notice.

“After Tropical Storm Irene, we had more than a dozen sewer overflow spills that rendered Long Island Sound unsafe for swimming and other water activities,” said Meyer.

“I urge the DEEP to move swiftly to implement the terms of the bill,” he said. “We want to empower our residents with the knowledge of when it is safe to bring their families to the beach for healthy enjoyment of our public waters.”

Several environmental advocates testified in favor of the bill when the Environment Committee heard it -- and subsequently hailed its passage.

“This bill should serve as a national model; one that other states should follow,” said Louis W. Burch, program coordinator for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“The Citizens Campaign for the Environment is excited about this bill. It is a win for the Senate and a major step in the right direction for DEEP,” Burch said.

“We support this bill, which responds to the need of the general public and science researchers to have prompt access to information relating to health and safety,” said Margaret Miner, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, in submitted testimony. “We believe this bill will inspire a more effective investment in sewage treatment.”

The Sierra Club’s Connecticut Chapter also supported the bill.

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty testified that “DEEP agrees that good and accurate information about the actual environmental and health impacts from sewage spills should be known to the public” and said, “The bill covers much of what DEEP already does with respect to reporting of sewage spills, and would “formalize” those procedures.”

The department would require additional staff resources and website development, however -- plus weekend staffing -- to post information within 24 hours as the bill would require, Esty said.

The posted notices might include information such as location; estimated discharge volume; extent to which the sewer discharge was treated; date and time of any incident and estimated or actual time the discharge ended, according to the bill.

They also might include affected geographic area; steps taken to contain the spill; reasonable public health, safety, welfare or environmental concerns, and public safety precautions that should be taken, it says.

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