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West Haven, Conn. fined for Illegal Sewage Discharges; Will Take Action to Significantly Reduce Sewage Discharges to New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound

Release Date: 12/19/2013
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(West Haven, Conn. – Dec. 19, 2013) – A major settlement involving federal and state regulators and the City of West Haven, Conn. will significantly reduce illegal discharges of raw sewage into the environment throughout West Haven from the City’s wastewater collection system. The agreement is between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, and the City of West Haven.

Under terms of the settlement, the City will reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from their 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. The City will also pay a fine of $125,000. The fine will be split equally between the United States and the State of Connecticut. Because Connecticut law allows for “penalties” to be used to fund environmental projects, the State’s half of the penalty ($62,500) will be paid into a fund to be used to pay for environmentally beneficial projects.

“By taking strong steps to eliminate raw sewage that is being discharged into rivers and streams that flow into New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound, we are both cleaning the environment and enhancing the recreation opportunities in these areas,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “It is encouraging that the City agreed to quickly settle this case and move ahead with the important work of remedying the problems in their wastewater collection system that have contributed to these untreated discharges.”

“We recognize West Haven’s diligent efforts to resolve these Clean Water Act violations,” said U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly. “The agreed upon remediation measures will in particular benefit minority and low income neighborhoods where many of the sewage overflows occurred. West Haven’s corrective steps should help to prevent future overflows in these residential areas and make recreation in local waterways safer for residents.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the City will reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from their 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. In addition, the City 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 get into the collection system from restaurants. The introduction of these waste products into the sanitary collection system often accumulate, causing blockages, 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.

“We are pleased that our precious resources on Long Island Sound will be improved by West Haven’s efforts to reduce sewage discharges,” said Connecticut’s Deputy Attorney General Perry Zinn Rowthorn. “The settlement serves as a reminder of the importance of proper maintenance and operation of all municipal sewage treatment plants. We applaud West Haven for accepting that responsibility through this settlement. The Long Island Sound ecosystem is a unique and irreplaceable environmental resource, critical to our economy. It must be protected. Using half of West Haven’s penalty for an environmentally beneficial project provides an additional benefit for everyone.”

“The steps that West Haven have agreed to take are going to have a significant beneficial impact on the environmental health of New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty. “We appreciate the cooperation of the city and their recognition of the importance of taking these actions. Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s greatest natural resource – it requires true cooperation from the local, state, and federal partners that are responsible for its continued protection.”

EPA’s investigations had documented that the City 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 rain water 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 (SSOs), 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.

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, who began his term on December 1st, have indicated their recognition of the importance of eliminating SSOs by implementing the terms of the settlement agreement.

More information:

- EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act in New England (epa.gov/region1/enforcement/water)

- EPA’s storm water program in New England (epa.gov/region1/npdes/stormwater)

EPA's mission is to protect our nation's land, air and water. Citizens can help by reporting potential environmental violations: http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/report-environmental-violations

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