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Source: Stamford Advocate

New laws aim to alert Stamford residents of sewage spills

Posted: June 20, 2013
Originally Published: June 19, 2013

STAMFORD - New state and local initiatives seek to notify Stamford residents when the city's wastewater treatment plant malfunctions or is overwhelmed by rain and the city has to release partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound to prevent the sewers from backing up into people's homes.

A fledgling statewide program launched late last month requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to publish a map on its website marking the location of older sewage plants that often have to release partially treated sewage during heavy rain - a process known as a "sewage bypass."

But this map does not show Stamford because the city has a modern treatment plant that keeps sewage and storm water separate, said DEEP Supervising Sanitary Engineer Dennis Greci.

"We are now working on the second part of the law, which requires us to be notified when sewer bypasses occur," Greci said in an email Tuesday. "Stamford (and every other sewered community in CT) will be covered by the second part of our efforts, which will be rolled out before next summer."

At the same time, a proposed local ordinance would piggyback on the state law and require the city to also notify residents. In effect it would copy the public on the city's reports to the DEEP.

"Any spill that has to be reported to the DEEP automatically will get reported to everybody that's on the list," said city Rep. Joe Coppola, R-15, who chairs the Board of Representatives Operations Committee. "The way the ordinance is set up is -- if it's significant enough for the DEEP to be notified by their regulations -- that notification will go out to everyone that's on that list."

Stamford's treatment plant had to do several major "sewage bypasses" in recent years. One bypass, resulting from a mechanical equipment failure in November 2011, lasted 43 hours and sent more than 40 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound.

The Stamford plant has not experienced any massive wastewater overflows in the past year, however, said state Bureau of Agriculture Director David Carey. The last significant sewage bypass occurred in October 2012, when 1.3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater were released into Stamford Harbor.

"They've operated very well from October until now," Carey said. "We had a problem year, 2011 was a bad year, but they did correct that and have been operating much better."

City Rep. Mary Uva, R-1, whose district borders the wastewater treatment plant, proposed the ordinance to require the city of Stamford to alert residents to sewage spills, whether accidental or intentional.

"My constituents are downstream of those events -- there have been small bypasses but there have also been very large, significant bypasses of partially treated sewage," Uva said at a February Board of Representatives meeting. "We don't get any notice."

State Rep. Gerry Fox III, D-Stamford, sponsored last year's legislation creating the statewide notification system after several of his constituents expressed concerns about the sewage spills. Reached Tuesday, Fox said he supports Stamford's proposed ordinance.

"I think the Board of Reps' ordinance together with the state law will improve the public's ability to know what's happening with the sewage treatment plant," Fox said. "And give them awareness any time there's a sewage spill."

The local notification system would not cost anything and or overly tax the Water Pollution Control Authority staff charged with reporting bypasses, said WPCA Executive Director Bill Brink.

"We've developed an email that will be ready for the operators to just fill in the required information by the ordinance," Brink said. "We tried to make it as easy as possible for them."

The Operations Committee will hold a public hearing next week before voting on the proposed ordinance. If approved, the legislation will go before the full Board of Representatives next month.

Coppola said he expects the legislation to sail to final approval.

"There hasn't been any opposition whatsoever," Coppola said. "Not in our committee and not from anybody I've spoken too. I can't believe why anyone would want to oppose it - it's a good idea."

An online component of notification will also be available, on DEEP's website. It will provide online notification and details of spills, including date, time, location, estimated volume and geographic impact, as well as possible public health concerns and precautions.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment Program Coordinator Louis Burch heralded the program's launch.

"CCE is delighted that the agency has worked so quickly to roll out the first phase of this groundbreaking project," Burch said in a news release issued Monday. "The public has a right to know when there's hazardous sewage contaminating their waterways, especially during the summer. This is a huge step in the right direction for DEEP."