Irene and the October Snowstorm Caused 47 Sewage Spills into Long Island Sound and Connecticut Rivers
Reporter Dave Altimari took a vague statement that Connecticut DEEP Commission Dan Esty made to a state panel investigating the storms’ aftermath -- a statement that no one on the panel questioned -- dug a little deeper, and learned that failures in the backup power sources at Connecticut sewage treatment plants caused 47 sewage spills into Long Island Sound and the state’s rivers. A huge amount of sewage -- raw and partially-treated -- was discharged.
Here’s what the commissioner told the panel:
"In the course of the two storms, keeping these systems up and running emerged as a high priority — and a challenge, as backup power failed at a number of facilities, causing several discharges of untreated sewage into the environment,'' Esty said in his testimony.
Esty didn't go into detail about the discharges and the panel members did not question him....
Altimari did valuable follow-up work though. Here’s what he wrote:
… a review of DEEP's incident reports indicates the problem may have been far worse than officials said. The reports show:
--There were 14 spills in which more than one million gallons of sewage spilled.
--Sewage was discharged into 16 rivers across the state, including the Connecticut, Farmington, Housatonic, Quinnipiac and Willimantic.
--Untreated or partially treated sewage was discharged by plants in 26 communities, from the state's biggest city, Bridgeport, to one of its smallest towns, Norfolk.
--Of the 47 spills, 26 occurred during Irene and 21 during the October storm, records show.
And in what might be the understatement of the year, Esty told the panel:
"A better structure of backup [or primary] power for wastewater facilities should be explored.”
I would have liked to have seen Altimari compile some information about the consequences of all those sewage spills. The Sound’s shellfish industry was shut down for weeks, for example. Presumably beaches were closed as well.
Conservatively, the Sound contributes $5.5 billion a year to the local economy, according to EPA. If the businesses that rely on the Sound were shut down for a month because of the storms, you might be able to argue that the economic cost was one-twelfth of $5.5 billion, or $456,500,000.
That’s a lot of money to lose because backup power was inadequate. Here's Altimari's story; it's well worth reading.