April 23, 2012
SEWAGE SPILL NOTIFICATION BILL PASSES THROUGH LEGISLATURE
By Kate King, Stamford Advocate
STAMFORD -- The General Assembly this month unanimously approved a bill requiring the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to maintain an online map illustrating the scope and effect of anticipated sewage overflows and to notify the public when unexpected spills occur.
State Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, sponsored the legislation after several of his constituents expressed concerns about the city Water Pollution Control Authority. Residents approached him with worries over the city's beaches and shellfish beds after the sewage treatment plant received a notice of violation from the DEEP for releasing 43 million gallons of partially treated water into Long Island Sound last October.
"It was something that a number of my constituents, especially in Shippan, felt strongly about," Fox said Monday. "The bill received support throughout the state because everyone is concerned about the quality of their water."
Thirty Connecticut lawmakers signed on to the spill notification bill, including Stamford state Reps. Dan Fox and Michael Molgano. State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, also served as a co-sponsor. The legislation won unanimous approval from both the state Senate and House, and will now go to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Malloy, a former Shippan resident, did not return a call for comment Monday.
"It's important for families -- we're talking about clean water here," Molgano said. It's an important piece of information that I think should be disseminated and sent to the public."
Fox said the legislation was one of the first bills in the current session to pass both the Senate and House.
"It was great to get it out so early," he said. "Sometimes when things get bunched together at the end, they don't make it out of the chambers."
City Rep. Ben Velishka, D-2, said this was "long overdue."
"It can only help to improve the lives of the folks around the city of Stamford's sewage treatment plant," he said. "It seems like a no-brainer, and it seems like something that should have been done years ago."
If Malloy signs the bill, the DEEP will be required to post on its website a map tracking expected sewage overflows during storms. Heavy rainfall increases the flow of water into sewer lines, and sometimes leads to bypasses as treatment plants become overwhelmed. During Tropical Storm Irene, for example, the Stamford WPCA's flow increased from 19 million to 52 million gallons a day and took a week to return to normal levels.
State and local laws impose mandatory beach and shellfish bed closings after heavy periods of rain. Closures vary depending on location, but all Connecticut coastal areas are shut down after 3 inches of rain, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Officials test the water before reopening shellfish beds.
Under the recently approved legislation, the DEEP would have show where sewage spills are expected during heavy rain and how far contamination would reach. The requirement would take effect July 2013 and should not be overly difficult for the department to meet, said Dennis Greci, the DEEP's supervising sanitary engineer.
"It's going to take a little work," Greci said. "We have to decide exactly how to do this. But it should be doable."
The department already maintains an interactive map tracking the state's foliage; Greci said the same technology can likely be applied to the sewage spill map.
Beginning in 2014, the DEEP would also be required to have on its website notifications and details of unexpected sewage spills, including date, time and location, estimated volume and how much the spilled wastewater was treated. The website would also list geographic impact, possible public health concerns and precautions.
"Having to wait for it to come online beginning in July 2014 seems an awful long way away," Velishka said. "Who knows how many spills will occur before then."
Greci said the increased public notification may help raise water-quality awareness among Connecticut residents.
This past spring, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found Stamford in violation of the Clean Water Act for failing to report sewage bypasses on 25 separate occasions dating back to April 2006.