Hartford Metropolitan District Fined $850,000 For Illegal Sewage Discharges

A major settlement involving federal and state regulators and the Hartford-based Metropolitan District (MDC) seeks to significantly reduce illegal discharges of raw sewage into the environment throughout the Hartford, Conn., area from the MDC's wastewater collection system, federal officials announced on May 11.

Reducing discharges of untreated sewage to local rivers and streams will enhance the fishing and contact recreation opportunities in the Connecticut River for area inhabitants, many of whom are historically disadvantaged.

The agreement is between EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Connecticut Attorney General's Office, and Hartford's Metropolitan District. The MDC is a non-profit municipal corporation responsible for providing water supply, water treatment and water pollution control to eight Hartford-area communities including Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor.

"By taking strong steps to eliminate raw sewage that is being discharged into the Connecticut River and its tributaries, we are both cleaning the environment and enhancing the recreation opportunities in the rivers," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "It is encouraging that the MDC agreed to quickly settle this case and move ahead with the important work of remedying the problems in the separate portions of their wastewater collection system that have contributed to these untreated discharges."

Under terms of the settlement, the MDC will significantly reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from the sanitary portions of their wastewater collection system, which previously have been discharged to area waterways including the Connecticut River, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The MDC also will pay a fine of $850,000. The fine will be split equally between the federal government and the state.

Specifically, the MDC will implement a comprehensive, system-wide plan to ensure that all sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) that are associated with insufficient capacity of the MDC's separate wastewater collection system are eliminated within 7 to 12 years. The MDC is concurrently working with the DEP to reduce the levels of overflows from the "combined" portions of their wastewater collection system. Work schedules will vary depending on whether SSOs have occurred in areas that are tributary to the Rocky Hill Water Pollution Control Facility (separate system) or the Hartford Water Pollution Control Facility system (combined system).

"(The) settlement will serve to protect valuable waters in Connecticut and the surrounding regions from contamination by untreated sewage -- which can seriously degrade water quality, harm aquatic life and threaten public health," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

EPA's investigations had documented that the MDC had discharged more than 120 million gallons of untreated sewage from eight unpermitted structural SSO locations in the separate portions of Hartford's, Newington's, Rocky Hill's, West Hartford's and Wethersfield's wastewater collection systems over the past five years. The discharges occurred primarily during wet-weather when the capacity of the separate collection systems was exceeded by groundwater and rain water that were discharged to these separate systems by individual residences through the connection of sump pumps, roof leaders, foundation, yard and area drains. Blockages in the collection systems have also resulted in dry-weather raw sewage overflows in all of the MDC's member communities.

Properly designed, operated and maintained sanitary sewer systems are meant to collect and transport all of the sewage that flows into them to a publicly owned treatment works. 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 but not limited to severe weather, improper system operation and maintenance, 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.

The MDC provides wastewater collection and treatment services to approximately 375,000 people, and owns or operates four wastewater treatment facilities, the largest of which is the Hartford Water Pollution Control Facility which discharges to the Connecticut River. The DEP's discharge permits for these wastewater treatment facilities do not authorize any SSOs.

Because Connecticut law allows for "penalties" to be used to fund environmental projects, the state's half of the penalty ($425,000) will be paid into a fund to be used to pay for projects in the greater Hartford area such as water quality planning, assessment and restoration, and greenway enhancements.

Further detail on this settlement can be accessed at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/hartford.html.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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