Municipal Stormwater Permit Lawsuits

Location: Redding, Ridgefield, Middletown, and Burlington, Connecticut | Status: Settled

Summary: Save the Sound filed Clean Water Act enforcement actions against Middletown, Burlington, Redding, and Ridgefield, Connecticut, for discharging polluted stormwater in violation of their permits and thereby causing or contributing to unswimmable and unfishable local waterbodies.  

Residents throughout Connecticut are living with unhealthy rivers, lakes, and streams, which have been polluted by excess stormwater runoff. To address the impacts of stormwater pollution, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) requires municipalities and commercial developments of a certain size to obtain coverage under Clean Water Act stormwater permits. These permits require permittees to implement practices that mitigate pollution from stormwater runoff. Save the Sound has been advocating to DEEP to protect water quality by strengthening these permits.  

Enforcement Cases: In spring 2021, Save the Sound investigated Connecticut municipalities’ compliance with Clean Water Act stormwater requirements. Alarmingly, our research showed that municipalities across the state are routinely violating their permits and discharging polluted stormwater that violates federal water quality standards and is making local waters and the Sound unsafe for swimming and aquatic life. Moreover, many of these municipalities were not even taking the most basic steps, such as filing required annual reports to demonstrate whether they were complying with their permits.  

After informing various municipalities that they were in violation of their permits and illegally polluting local waterways, Save the Sound sought to communicate and work with the municipalities during a 60-day notice period to achieve compliance without a court action. While some responded in a timely manner, expressed their willingness to comply, and took meaningful affirmative action within the 60-day timeframe, others ignored these communications entirely or until it was too late. We brought suit against those municipalities that took no meaningful actions in the 60-day period.

In September 2022, we reached settlements with Redding and Ridgefield. In July 2023, we settled with Burlington, and in September 2023, settled with Middletown. These settlements are in the form of court-ordered consent decrees.  

In Redding, E. coli and additional unknown pollutants impact both the Little and Norwalk Rivers, negatively affecting recreation as well as habitat for fish, other aquatic life, and surrounding wildlife. Redding agreed to: 

  • Comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area; and 
  • Provide $70,000 to fund a study that will consider the feasibility of future dam removal on the Norwalk River, supporting ongoing work to improve passage for migratory fish from the Sound.

In Ridgefield, E. coli, phosphorus, and additional unknown pollutants impact the Norwalk River, Ridgefield Brook, Cooper Pond Brook, Titicus River Sub-Regional Basin, and Mamanasco Lake. This negatively impacts both recreation opportunities for people and habitat for fish, other aquatic, life and surrounding wildlife. Ridgefield agreed to: 

  • Comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area; and 
  • Provide $70,000 for a green infrastructure project that will reduce stormwater runoff to the Great Swamp, where the Norwalk River originates, further benefiting water quality in the Norwalk River watershed. 

In Burlington, E. coli negatively impacts recreation in Burlington Brook. Burlington agreed to: 

  • Comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area; and 
  • Provide $70,000 to the Farmington River Watershed Association, Inc., for use on projects, such as green infrastructure, to improve water quality in the Farmington River Watershed.  

In Middletown, E. coli and additional pollutants are contaminating the Connecticut River, Coginchaug River, Sawmill Brooke, Sumner Brook, and Crystal Lake. This is negatively impacting both recreation opportunities for people and habitat for fish, other aquatic life, and surrounding wildlife. Middletown agreed to: 

  • Comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area; and 
  • Provide $75,000 to the Jonah Center for the removal of invasive species from freshwater tidal marshlands near Middletown and the prevention of future releases of invasive species from areas with infestations.  

Latest Step: Reached a settlement with Middletown in September 2023 and have now settled all four cases.

Next Step: Monitor compliance with the consent decrees and bring enforcement actions under those consent decrees when necessary.

Further Reading:

Action Opportunities:

Last Updated: November 6, 2023


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