Danbury threatened with illegal discharge lawsuit
Several environmental groups are threatening to sue the city of Danbury for releasing more than 450,000 gallons of raw sewage into rivers and streams over the last five years.
The groups, led by the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, claim the discharges violate the federal Clean Water Act and endanger a fragile ecosystem from the Housatonic River to Long Island Sound.
“These discharges of raw or partially treated sewage are severe, unacceptable and illegal under state and federal law,” said Jack Looney, a CFE staff attorney. “Danbury must make routine and preventative maintenance of its sewage collection system a priority and prepare a detailed plan to get its discharges of untreated sewage and toxic metals under control.”
Mayor Mark Boughton said the discharges are mostly the result of overflow during heavy rainstorms, which overloads the city’s wastewater treatment plant and forces a bypass. He said the city is doing all it can to lessen the problem, including spending $100 million in taxpayer money to upgrade the treatment plant.
“We report the bypasses” to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Boughton said. “There were less incidences this year than last year. I’d rather take the money we will spend defending the suit and put it into upgrades.”
CFE, which is being joined by the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, Friends of the Lake and Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, also claims the city, in addition to discharging raw sewage, has been releasing illegal amounts of lead, copper and zinc into the Still River and the Limekiln, Beaver and Padanaram Brooks.
The Still River flows into the Housatonic River in New Milford, and then to Long Island Sound. Raw sewage pollutes waterways with disease-causing bacteria and excessive nitrogen, which leads to dead zones in bays, harbors and Long Island Sound.
Dennis Schain, a DEEP spokesman, said Danbury has been working with the state to upgrade its water treatment plant.
“DEEP has been working closely with Danbury on upgrades — especially when it comes to meeting state standards to limit the discharge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous into the Still River,” Schain said. “These nutrients contribute to the growth of plant life in the river, which is harmful to water quality.”
Still, Schain said “CFE has exercised its rights to file a citizens’ lawsuit under provisions of the federal Clean Water Act and we respect their right to take such action.”
The environmental groups said their suit will demand that Danbury take steps to eliminate the discharge of sewage beyond permit limits; permanently cease discharging lead, copper, zinc and other substances above permit limits; and pay a civil penalty of up to $37,500 per day, per violation, for all violations of the Clean Water Act since January 12, 2009.
“For nearly 45 years, the Clean Water Act has mandated our nation’s water bodies be made clean and safe,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director for CFE and Save the Sound. “It prohibits the discharge of untreated sewage.”
Reynolds added “Maintaining infrastructure in good order is a basic responsibility of municipal governments, because neglecting sanitary sewer pipes allows sewage to reach rivers, lakes and Long Island Sound — and that hurts swimmers, wildlife, public health and the economy.”
Boughton said he understands CFE’s point, and said he wants the city’s effluent to be as clean as possible when it’s discharged into a waterway. “I don’t know what else to do,” he said.
In September, CFE said it filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue following an extensive investigation into sewage discharges statewide After Danbury failed to “demonstrate commitment” to fixing the problems, CFE said a new notice was filed this week and the lawsuit will be filed following the latest 60-day period.
CFE and Save the Sound said its ongoing investigation could result in additional legal action against other municipalities it believes is violating the law.