Sewage in our rivers has been in the news recently because of the big Waterbury spill, but these events are more common than most people realize. The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) has a webpage showing locations of sewage spills called The Bypass and CSO Events Public Viewer. The information is updated when spills are reported to them. It would be a good idea to routinely check this map before paddling or other water contact after heavy rains.
Note the links above lead to a page that shows all events, but links on DEEP's pages lead to a webpage with tabs to choose between ongoing and all events. If you have trouble seeing all three of the windows that first appear, you may have to close the legend window to see the whole map. You can also click somewhere on any of the windows and try Ctrl + or Ctrl - to change the size of that window.
To search their sewage webpage for a specific time range, first look above the table at the bottom of the page. Click the "Filter" tab, then select the time range you want to see. Do this again after switching to the "Bypass Events" tab.
The map to the right is from that webpage and shows sewage spill events in the two weeks from Oct 23 through Nov 26, 2017. Click on it for a larger version. It shows the spills into the Naugatuck River that made the news, and also spills into the Bantam, Pequabuck, Quinnipiac, Hockanum, Norwalk, Connecticut, and Willimantic Rivers, and Long Island Sound.
Changing the time frame in the filter reveals that in the past year, there were 384 spills from 29 facilities. 103 of those spills did not list an amount.246 events were responsible for 21,909,832 to 83,684,836 gallons, plus there were another 35 spills that reported "over 1,000,000" gallons of sewage entered our rivers with little or no treatment. Only Waterbury reported an actual measurement of 5,000,000 gallons in the "Over 1,000,000 gallons" category.
That means from at least 60,909,832 gallons to some unknown amount well over 117,684,870 gallons of sewage went into rivers and eventually Long Island Sound. Plus 103 spills of unknown amount. Over 50 different bodies of water were listed as getting sewage in them, with others unidentified.
The website data also includes reasons for the sewage spills. The great majority of these were expected overflows of sewage acombined with runoff that occurs during heavy rain events. Other reasons included accidents during construction activities, and equipment breakdowns.
When sewage spills are planned or expected, or are picked up and reported by monitoring systems automatically, they can be stopped as soon as possible. Affected river users can then be warned to stay away from the water and cleanup can begin. Not every event of the past year listed anything under "How Was Event Discovered?", but the 126 that did list something provides some understanding of the state of sewage treatment monitoring in our state.
75 of the 126 events that displayed data on how the event was discovered listed normal plant operations or alarms, planned or expected bypasses, or other automatic notification. 5 of these referred to electrical issues, including the big Waterbury spill. No mention is made on how or if the public was informed of the problems.
Residents, homeowners, or passersby reported sewage leaking from somewhere 24 times. If you see something, say something.
Police or other town personel reported problems to water pollution control 12 times.
Contractors reported problems 8 times.
Harbor Watch reported 4 events.
Sewage issues were reported by businesses 3 times including "...owner noticed odor coming from storm drain near the outside sitting area of the establishment." One can only imagine the effect on the customers.
Five-Million-Gallon Sewage Spill in Naugatuck River
Recent rains have increased flow in the Naugatuck River, but bacteria levels are not expected to fall by much because runoff itself contributes bacteria to rivers and streams. Bacteria levels are often high for 48 hours after heavy rain, and some parts of the Naugatuck River watershed north of Waterbury received over two inches of rain Oct 24-25.
On October 9, Waterbury's wastewater treatment plant lost power resulting in a release of untreated and partially treated sewage into the river. This major spill (into a low-flowing river) received little attention. The Waterbury Republican-American newspaper has been reporting the problem regularly, but the best non-subscription news source we have found so far is an article from the Waterbury Observer Oct 23. Best Facebook coverage so far is from the Naugatuck River Revival Group and Waterbury Observer. On October 20, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) advised us that bacteria counts were still high, and people should avoid contact with the river water.
Here's what has been reported. On Monday, October 9, a live wire was cut in a construction site at the City of Waterbury's wastewater treatment plant, which caused the entire plant to lose power. The company that cut the wire could not work on restoring power while plant mangers were trying to start the backup generator. The Waterbury-Republican article stated that "hours later" the plant had to start putting untreated sewage into the Naugatuck River at a rate of 1 million gallons per hour until power was restored five hours later. The article further stated that on Wednesday, Oct 11, DEEP reported it did not know why dozens of fish turned up dead downstream of the treatment plant, in the City of Naugatuck. On October 13, Waterbury's Public Health Department put up three signs advising no swimming or other contact with river water after tests showed elevated bacteria levels. On October 18, additional tests showed bacteria levels remained high.
Kevin Zak of the Naugatuck River Revival Group reported to Rivers Alliance on October 23 that two of the signs were damaged. Rivers Alliance estimated that on October 9, the day of the spill, the flow in the river below the treatment plant was approximately 30 to 40 percent sewage.