What is your Sewage Right to Know Act?
Many of our sewage treatment plants and collection systems are old and failing, discharging untreated or partially treated sewage into our waterways. Having a notification system that documents sewage discharges creates a roadmap of areas that need infrastructure repairs and spurs action. Timely public notification of spills is essential to protecting public health.
If you are a Connecticut resident, we urge you to contact your local elected officials and tell them that you want to be notified when and where sewage discharges happen in your community. View the CT DEEP sewage notification website. Read on for more information on CT’s updated and improved public notification requirements.
If you are a New York resident, you can sign up now for sewage discharge notifications to be emailed and/or texted to you.
Above: Governor Malloy with the signed CT SRTK Act – (L to R) Margaret Miner (Connecticut River Conservancy) Bill Cooke (Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment), Denise Ryzcka (CT DEEP), Unknown, Unknown, Governor Malloy, Bill Lucey (LI Soundkeeper), Mike Demicco (State Rep), Unknown.
CT Sewage Right to Know: Background
In 2018, significant changes were made to the CT Sewage Right to Know Act (SRTK). The following describes what these changes mean for you as a citizen and your protection from encountering contaminated water while swimming, fishing, throwing a ball for your dog or just because you care about fish and wildlife living in these waters.
Public Act No. 18-97 AN ACT CONCERNING THE SEWAGE SPILL RIGHT-TO-KNOW ACT AND EXPANDING CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR WASTEWATER OPERATORS.
The original SRTK Act was passed in 2012. This past session Rep. Geraldo Reyes, from Naugutuck, CT was inspired to strengthen the language as a result of a massive five-million gallon spill that traveled down the Naugutuck River to the Housatonic and then down to Long Island Sound. Citizens were unaware for days that this was occurring, exposing them to pathogens and causing a large fish kill as sewage drove out the oxygen from the river during a time of low water.
Connecticut changes passed:
The following change mandates training for all certified sewage operators in the state of CT receive annual training.
On and after October 1, 2018, each certified operator shall obtain not less than six hours of continuing education each year. A record of such continuing education shall be maintained by the certified operator and by the facility employing the operator and shall be made available for inspection upon request by the commissioner.
The next changes define what is an electronic report and mandates that all reports of a spill are sent to CT DEEP in an electronic format. This was formally a voluntary method of reporting and resulted in a paper backlog at DEEP. Given the low staffing at in the State public service sector having electronic reports automatically logged will speed notification and increase efficiency.
On and after July 1, 2018, not later than two hours after becoming aware of any sewage spill, the operator of a sewage treatment plant or collection system shall submit an electronic report to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The following language is the meat of this bill, requiring that the chief elected official and the public be notified of spills in their town. Towns have a variety of electronic notification systems that they can use to notify their constituents and downstream communities.
On and after July 1, 2018, not later than two hours after becoming aware of any sewage spill that exceeds five thousand gallons or that is anticipated to exceed five thousand gallons, the operator of a sewage treatment plant or collection system shall notify the chief elected official of the municipality where the sewage spill occurred. As soon as practicable after receiving any such notification, such municipality shall inform the public and downstream public officials, as appropriate.
The final language imposes fines on plants that do not notify CT DEEP and the affected municipalities within the 2-hour time frame.
The failure to file an electronic report pursuant to any provision of this section shall be deemed a violation of the provisions of this section for purposes of section 22a-438.
Save the Sound’s Soundkeeper worked closely with Lou Burch of the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment and Bob Shea, meeting repeatedly with CT DEEP officials and legislators of the environment committee, to draft the language that was passed on the last day of session.
NY Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act: Get Notified
Since 2013 NY has been notifying the public on sewage discharges into waterways in New York State, including accidental spills and permitted combined sewage overflows. Learn more about this notification system and how to sign up to receive notifications.
These are important laws for public knowledge and utility transparency. The more people realize how frequently spills are happening the more we will work together to upgrade our infrastructure to keep our waters clean.