February 25, 2018

An Open Letter to Old Lyme Land Use Commissions, Related Agencies Regarding Sanitary Wastewater

To the Editor:

An Open Letter to the Several Old Lyme Land Use Commissions and Related Agencies

Subject:  Sanitary Wastewater

It has come to the attention of this Commission that sanitary wastewater treatment in plants sanctioned by the State DEEP [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] are discharging less than potable fresh water into our rivers flowing eventually to salty Long Island Sound.  The view of the DEEP seems to be based on their opinion that dilution is the solution to pollution.  The Connecticut River is closed to recreational shell fishing because they neglect to tell us, that the treatment plants they supervise are the source of much of this pollution.

With the name they give themselves, it seems to be odd that they, of all people, should control the very sewage treatment plants that pollute these waters.

“Seems to be” in the previous paragraph is there because it is difficult to document the culprit.  This Commission believes that the DEEP (formerly the DEP) [Department of Environmental Protection] is the fox in the henhouse.  They spend public money, but the results of their effort, is far from transparent.

Several years ago, one example came to our attention when an official of the DEP told Old Lyme representatives that a proposed sewage treatment plant in Old Saybrook would discharge treated water into the Connecticut River midway between the Amtrak and the Baldwin Bridges.  He told us not to worry because “The discharge pipe would be fitted with a diffuser.”  When asked what a “diffuser” was, he said, “So it doesn’t all come up in one place.”

For another example, the screens on the discharge at a plant near Middletown clogged up, and the plant operators opened the discharge directly to the River, and raw human waste arrived by tidal flow at Point O’Woods in Old Lyme a few days later.  In this instance, officials in Hartford had the unmitigated gall to say that this human waste originated in Point O’Woods where there are, and were then, no open sewers dumping raw sewage into nearby waters.  None.

One reason why this has been going on is that most people don’t relish talking about human waste.  Another reason is sewage discharges are often located in obscure places like the bottoms of rivers.  We believe the data is all there but “not available”.

There is no denying that in heavily industrialized or densely populated urban areas, conventional septic tank-leach fields are not adequate for the load, but even here the DEEP is abusing both the environment and home owners on lots which are too small for conventional septic tank-leach field treatment.  This is because of still another factor.  The DEEP in this state is in a turf war with the Connecticut State Health Department.  Here, the DEEP holds a monopoly on about all wastewater treatment, except for the old fashioned passive septic tank – leach field, presently the only wastewater treatment available to sanitarians who work under the guidance and rules of the State Health Department.  The result of this situation is that the local Health Directors and local Sanitarians cannot avail themselves of modern, proven systems now in use in Rhode Island and in Massachusetts to digest all septic waste on a small house lot.

So to win this turf war, the Connecticut DEEP resorts to another ploy.  They don’t test the soil.  They simply measure lot size and lump neighborhoods as those having houses too close together.  By a formula that they don’t make public, they declare a lumped discharge of 5000 gallons per day from several sources, and they claim jurisdiction, whereas the State Health Department is limited to control only the individual smaller discharges.  In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, such small individual discharges would get individual treatment with modern technology, thus avoiding the loss of fresh water to the ocean and the costs and hazards of sewage treatment plants and leaky sewers.

So who loses when we have unnecessary sewers?  First, the environment loses ground water.  We exhaust the aquifer and cause dug wells to dry up.  Taxpayers lose as we pay to move wastewater that could easily go back through leach fields into groundwater at no cost to the taxpayers.  Instead, they dump partially treated water into the ocean.

What must be done to correct this situation?  We must get the fox out of the henhouse.  The DEEP should not be permitted to monitor itself.  Data concerning sewage treatment plant discharges for both quantity and quality should be readily available for anyone to scrutinize.  The use of alternative technology for sewage treatment should be made readily available to any registered sanitarian or health director, without any interference by the DEEP.

When sanitary waste water is sewerized and discharged into a river we are throwing away a valuable resource that could, and should be, recycled efficiently to improve our environment and save money too.  Modern technology permits this, but the DEEP prohibits alternative technology for single home installations and hides the data which would indict them.


The Old Lyme Shellfish Commission

Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by Mervin Roberts, Old Lyme Shellfish Commission Chairman, on behalf of the commission.



  1. Ron Breault says:

    Well said! What action can be taken legally to force these gov’t organizations to have transparent operations?

    • Mervin Roberts says:

      The Connecticut Legislature and the Governor need to enact a law granting the Connecticut Department of Health, through its Town Health Directors and Town Sanitarians, the exclusive power to choose, regulate, supervise, administer and enforce all sewage discharges of less than 5000 gallons per day. They may permit property owners to utilize both passive and active processes. This shall be at the sole discretion of the Department of Health with no oversight or interference by the DEEP. The DEEP would be restricted to the control of daily discharges of 5000 gallons or more, sewage treatment plants and sewers. The practice of the DEEP to lump small discharges into areas of special concern shall be limited by the State Department of Health to those situations and discharges which they alone determine to be appropriate for off-site treatment and disposal. The intent of this law is to encourage sewer avoidance and encourage the recycling of water which otherwise would end up in Long Island Sound.

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