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Six Rhode Island Communities Ordered to Address Sewage Overflows // EPA continues effort to improve water quality in R.I. waters

Release Date: 08/10/2007
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – Aug. 10, 2007) – Six additional Rhode Island municipalities have been ordered by EPA to take steps to stop harmful raw sewage overflows from discharging from city pipes and wastewater systems into R.I. waterways. The orders are part of a coordinated effort by EPA and the R.I. Dept. of Environmental Management to combat the serious water quality problems caused by “sanitary sewer overflows” in the state.

The EPA administrative orders were issued to the R.I. communities of East Greenwich, Jamestown, Narragansett, Warwick, West Warwick and Woonsocket. These orders are part of a broader strategy to reduce sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in Rhode Island by both enforcing existing regulations and increasing targeted compliance assistance to help municipalities take necessary steps to address their SSO problems.

“EPA is committed to improving water quality in Rhode Island,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “By using all available tools to address sewage overflows into Rhode Island waters, EPA will help protect the Ocean State’s coastal beaches, shellfishing areas and fresh water resources.”

A variety of outreach and compliance techniques are being employed to ensure that all R.I. wastewater utilities and municipalities with wastewater collection systems are aware of the need to repair and maintain sewage systems to avoid the harmful effects of SSOs. EPA and the R.I. Dept. of Environmental Management (RI DEM) are working with city officials across the state to focus on this important issue.

The recent administrative orders follow similar actions EPA took in Feb. 2007, when the Narragansett Bay Commission and the municipalities of Providence, Barrington, Smithfield, Cranston and Bristol were ordered to address issues with SSOs.

Sanitary sewer overflows are caused by breakdowns in the system of pipes, pumps and other equipment that municipalities and wastewater utilities use to collect and transport sewage to wastewater treatment plants. The unlawful discharges are often a result of grease and other blockages; structural, mechanical or electrical failures; or from excess flows that enter wastewater collection systems. Implementation of effective preventative maintenance programs has been shown to significantly reduce the frequency and volume of these discharges.

When a SSO occurs, raw sewage can be released from the wastewater collection system directly to surface waters or onto streets, where it can pose a direct public health risk or flow to surface water via a storm drain. Discharges of untreated sewage from SSOs are a significant cause of the water quality violations that cause beach and shellfish closures in New England. Sewage overflows can back up into homes and other buildings, posing public health risks and causing property damage.

The Orders EPA issued in February and those it issued recently require wastewater systems with SSO problems to conduct a system-wide assessment, develop plans to remedy any deficiencies found, and adopt a long-term preventative maintenance program. EPA’s Orders complement ongoing actions that RIDEM has taken across the state to control SSOs.

To date, the system- wide assessments indicate that lack of maintenance and adequate funding are common problems that communities need to address. This is particularly true in those communities that only have sewer collection systems transporting their wastewater to a neighboring community’s treatment plant.

A critical component of EPA’s effort to eliminate SSOs in Rhode Island is educating city officials across the state to the problem. To do this, EPA and RIDEM are providing guidance to municipalities through workshops, fact sheets and onsite assistance, on how to develop long-term management and investment plans for future protection. To help municipalities identify and prevent problems with the operation and maintenance of their wastewater collection system, EPA and RIDEM are developing a model sewer preventive maintenance plan.

More information:

- EPA’s efforts to eliminate SSOs in New England (epa.gov/ne/sso)
- Sustainable water infrastructure (epa.gov/waterinfrastructure)

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