FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 11, 2021
Save the Sound Files Clean Water Act Enforcement Action against the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority
Organization argues 2.1 million gallon sewage spill into Mill River violates Clean Water Act
New Haven, Connecticut – Save the Sound has filed a Clean Water Act complaint in Federal Court against the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (GNHWPCA).
Save the Sound’s investigation of the pipe segment that failed and poured 2.1 million gallons of raw sewage from the Whitney Avenue Pressure Sewer into the Mill River flowing to Long Island Sound on July 6-7, 2020 revealed that the GNHWPCA knew of corrosion in the pipe since at least 2014. In fact, a standard operating procedure was developed for the Whitney Avenue Pressure Sewer that required frequent monitoring given the poor condition. The investigation found that this standard operating procedure was not followed, and the pipe had not been investigated since 2015. Instead, the problem resurfaced when a sinkhole was reported last year. While the GNHWPCA had planned to line the corroded pipe, the pipe failed before the lining project commenced.
“The Mill River spill prompted our legal team to review the cause of the spill, past inspections and condition assessments of the segment that failed, and maintenance and inspection programs related to that type of pipe,” said Katherine Fiedler, staff attorney, Save the Sound. “Save the Sound’s goal is to ensure that this type of sewage spill, especially at this scale that endangered public health and closed beaches as far away as Madison, is prevented in the future through a system of improved inspection and maintenance of large sewer pipes and follow-up on pipes compromised by corrosion in the GNHWPCA’s service area.”
While GNHWPCA has historically had few sewage spills, the Mill River spill highlighted critical gaps in the routine maintenance and inspection programs that could likely result in future pollution if not resolved. Based on a comprehensive review of Freedom of Information Act documents provided by the GNHWPCA, Save the Sound was unable to detect a routine cleaning, inspection, and maintenance program for large diameter (high capacity) pipes. A program to closely monitor and rehabilitate pipes subject to hydrogen sulfide corrosion did not include the pipe that spilled into the Mill River, despite the serious pipe deterioration and associated danger it posed. In addition, the GNHWPCA provided no evidence of a protocol for adding additional pipes—such as the one that failed—to the program. In short, not only was there a massive failure in following up on identified corrosion and a poor condition assessment in the Whitney Avenue Pressure Sewer that ultimately failed, but there appear to be significant gaps in GNHWPCA’s routine maintenance and monitoring programs that could lead to another catastrophic sewage spill from large diameter pipes, due to corrosion or other causes.
As part of its Sewage Free Long Island Sound campaign, Save the Sound has recently reached a number of Clean Water Act resolutions with towns—including Darien and Danbury in Connecticut and Port Chester, Rye Brook, Village of Mamaroneck, and White Plains in New York—who have agreed to better maintain their systems to prevent large sewage discharges and always prefers such resolutions to litigation.
In addition, Save the Sound’s advocacy team is working at the state legislature this spring to strengthen the Sewage Right to Know Act and ensure prompt, accurate, and complete notification of downstream communities in case of sewage leaks, spills, and releases statewide. In the case of the Mill River spill, it appears City officials were initially given information that dramatically downplayed the extent of the spill, delaying proper public notice.
“New Haven and Hamden residents deserve clean waterways, and both the City of New Haven and GNHWPCA have raised and invested millions to upgrade its sewage plant and begin green infrastructure investments like rain gardens—investments that are working,” said Curt Johnson, president of Save the Sound. “Poor maintenance of pipes caused this massive spill and threatens others, and undermines those taxpayer investments. The GNHWPCA must develop strong programs to prevent this harm to our shared natural resources.”