Danbury settles case over waste discharge
Updated 12:43 pm, Wednesday, November 22, 2017
DANBURY - The city has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine as part of a settlement in federal court with three environmental groups that sued over discharges of wastewater into the Still River.
“We are encouraged that Danbury is stepping up and taking the measures set out in the consent decree to stop sewage discharges,” said Roger Reynolds, chief legal officer at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, one of the groups that sued the city, in a prepared statement.
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment and two other groups - Rivers Alliance of Connecticut and Friends of the Lake, Inc. - charged in U.S. District Court that Danbury discharged wastewater into the Still River and three other water bodies from 2011 to 2016, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
The city said that the discharges were made during storms, when the wastewater treatment plant was overwhelmed. The city has scheduled a $20 million upgrade of its sewage plant, which will prevent future such discharges.
The environmental groups documented the discharges by reviewing records the city filed with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“We think this is a fair resolution of what we believe was an overblown complaint,” Mayor Mark Boughton said on Tuesday. “We think it was premature for them to come out and initiate litigation, since we are planning an extensive remodeling and renovation of the plant.”
The plant, which treats waste from Danbury, Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown and Ridgefield, was last upgraded in 1993. Plants are usually updated every 30 or so years, so the scheduled completion date of April 2022 falls along those guidelines. The work will include new technology and update equipment that is used 24/7, David Day, Danbury’s public utilities superintendent has previously said.
This phosphorus reduction project stems from an order the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued in 2008. The order requires that the plant remove 98 percent of the phosphorous from the effluent leaving the plant. Right now, it filters out only about 90 percent, Day said.
The sewage discharges - 20 over five years - released bacteria and nitrogen into the Still River, Limekiln Brook, Beaver Brook and Padanaram Brook. The discharges fuel “low-oxygen dead zones” in important water bodies including Long Island Sound, according to a release by the environmental groups.
The settlement must be approved by the federal Department of Justice before it can take effect.
“This is an extremely important and welcome settlement, not only because it will bring much-needed relief to the affected waterways, but also because it addresses the chronic problem in this state of underperforming wastewater treatment facilities,” said Margaret Miner, executive director of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, in a prepared statement. “Contamination by sewage is all too common, and often leads to closed beaches, fish die-offs, and massive aquatic dead zones.”