Following an extensive investigation of sewage discharges statewide, Connecticut Fund for the Environment has sent Danbury a 60-day "Notice of Intent to Sue".
Staff Attorney Jack Looney says their investigation has uncovered a troubling pattern of sewage discharges in Danbury that violate the Clean Water Act. According to state records, Danbury has released raw or untreated sewage into local rivers and streams at least 66 times from early 2011 to early 2016. Looney says if Danbury does not take action to remedy these violations within the next 60 days, CFE may file a citizen suit in federal court.
CFE says the majority of the sewage discharges were into the Still River, which flows through neighborhoods, commercial districts, and forested areas. There were also raw and undertreated sewage discharges into Limekiln Brook, Beaver Brook, and Padanaram Brook.
Most of the bypasses were caused by blockages in various components of the sanitary sewer collection system. Other causes include repeated failure of electrical and mechanical equipment, insufficient capacity to accommodate wet weather, and inflow/infiltration. Looney says these issues indicate a lack of routine maintenance and preventative maintenance by the town.
In addition to the sewage and bacteria discharges, CFE's investigation discovered that Danbury also repeatedly exceeded its state-issued permit limit for total discharges of lead in 2015 and 2016, and its limits for total copper and zinc in 2015.
Mayor Mark Boughton says they have set several meetings with CFE to review discharge plans and discuss how Danbury operates. He says the discharges they're citing are called a bypass. Danbury made 20 in 2015 and 13 in 2016, so the City sas been able to lower some of those. He says they are both on the same page about limiting those discharges.
Boughton says the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection knows about them and they're authorized under the law.
Boughton says Danbury is doing what the City can to comply with the law. He notes that they will work with any interest group that wants clean water. Boughton called this notice ironic given that Bridgeport and New Haven dump raw sewage into Long Island Sound.
Danbury is looking to make almost $100 million in improvements at the Waste Treatment Facility. The overall plant needs to be updated. It's been about 20 years since it's been upgraded. Boughton says that's past the shelf life for a lot of the equipment. But he says the bypasses that the City has done aren't a reflection of the technology in place currently at the plant. He says some times it's a reflection of break in sewer line.
Danbury routinely bypassed the plant when there was a hurricane and too much water was coming into the plant. Boughton says that was done with the permission of DEEP. He says CFE doesn't think that's good enough, but that's what the law requires.