Eighty-six years is too long to wait.
The 1972 passage of the federal Clean Water Act put forward strong and ambitious goals for our waters. For the over four decades since the public has been patiently investing their taxes and utility rates to once again make our rivers clean, healthy, and full of life.
Among the work required by this landmark law was the upgrading of our sewage and storm water infrastructure. This work is expensive and takes time. And while we have made tremendous progress and seen the ecological, public health and economic benefits, there is still much to do.
Every year as a result of rainfall over a billion gallons of untreated sewage mixed with polluted rainwater from combined sewers spills into the Connecticut River and its tributaries. The Hartford area’s water and wastewater utility, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), is responsible for discharging up to 800 million of those gallons. Year-in and year-out.
In 1994 after 4 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into Wethersfield Cove, the CT DEP required the MDC to begin upgrading its 150-year-old sewer system. And then in 2006 thanks to a citizen lawsuit dissatisfied with progress, the DEP stepped in to require more robust and long-term improvements that would eventually reduce these overflow discharges to zero in a typical year of rainfall.
That plan – now called the Clean Water Project – set out a 23-year series of improvements that will ultimately cost $2.5 billion. And the MDC has made significant strides in implementing this mandatory plan, including creating a 4-mile long storage tunnel located over 225 feet underground that will store over 41.5 million gallons of wastewater in order to prevent it from just overflowing into the river.
This is real progress.
But unfortunately the MDC has just asked the CT DEEP for an additional 30 years to complete the Clean Water Project – bringing the rate of progress to nearly a screeching halt.
That means it will be 2058 before we see the MDC meet its share of the Clean Water Act’s goals. That’s 86 years since 1972. And that’s just too long to wait.
And while downriver communities may be tempted to think this as just a Hartford problem — it isn’t. These sewage and storm water discharges are measurable 30 miles downstream and have adverse impacts on river habitat and recreation.
And as taxpayers supporting these infrastructure projects through generous state grants and loans, downstream communities have a voice.
We encourage all the downstream communities to contact the DEEP at firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line “Municipal Wastewater MDC LTCP Update” and say 2029 is long enough to wait for cleaner and healthier rivers.
Alicea is a river steward at the Connecticut River Conservancy. Since 1952, the Conservancy has worked to protect and restore New England’s great river and its 11,000-square-mile watershed.