Springfield sewage pollutes Connecticut River and LI Sound

Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound has filed with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Boston a Request to Modify, Revoke and Reissue or Terminate two permits that allow the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to discharge treated and raw sewage into the Connecticut River. The municipal wastewater discharged by Springfield adds 2,341 pounds of nitrogen per day into the Connecticut River, which ultimately impacts the health and environment of Long Island Sound.

“For decades, the EPA, the authority that issues discharge permits in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has allowed Springfield to continue discharging raw sewage from 23 different locations during wet weather. Bacteria and nitrogen pollution from these discharges flow down the Connecticut River and into Long Island Sound. This is unacceptable,” said CFE/Save the Sound Staff Attorney Jack Looney. Excess nitrogen fuels algae growth that sucks oxygen from the Sound’s waters, causing dead zones each summer. Additionally, there is increasingly strong evidence that nitrogen pollution is a major cause of the coastal marsh degradation that exposes shoreline communities in Connecticut and New York to punishing storm waves.  

CFE/Save the Sound’s request highlights three problems with the permits.

  • The treated wastewater permit for the wastewater treatment facility on Bondi Island, in Springfield, Mass., fails to incorporate a legally enforceable nitrogen limit, a measure required by Connecticut’s Water Quality Standards for aquatic life in Long Island Sound.

  • The second permit allows large amounts of raw sewage from Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) outfalls to be discharged into the Connecticut River, which impacts the water quality in the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. (For example, Hartford’s Metropolitan District Commission is required to reduce its CSOs to zero, while the EPA has allowed Springfield’s 23 discharges to continue.)

  • The Springfield wastewater treatment facility’s permit was last issued in 2001. Since then, it has been improperly administratively continued, which has prevented public comment and participation. Because of this, critical information about the impact of Springfield’s wastewater plants on the health and environment of Long Island Sound has not been considered. CFE/Save the Sound argues that proper public notice and participation would have resulted in lower nitrogen limits and fewer sewage overflows.

In February 2015, CFE/Save the Sound filed a petition demanding EPA take legally enforceable steps to reduce nitrogen discharges into Long Island Sound. Despite reductions that have been required since 2000, primarily in Connecticut and New York, the Sound continues to struggle with nitrogen-induced conditions such as dead zones, fish kills and toxic algae. In December 2015, EPA released a strategy to address these conditions. The strategy highlights reducing nitrogen discharges into the Connecticut River as a priority. As a result, CFE/Save the Sound is holding its petition in abeyance, pending the results of the EPA nitrogen strategy.

Roger Reynolds, legal director for CFE/Save the Sound, said, “We put our petition aside for now and we are working with EPA to implement their wide ranging nitrogen strategy. In the meantime, however, EPA must hold Massachusetts plants to the same legal requirements they’ve held Connecticut and New York to. Nitrogen and raw sewage from the Springfield plant is polluting the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, imperiling human health and harming aquatic life. The fact that the plant is located in Massachusetts does not entitle it to a free ride.”

“The EPA should set an example as well as standards,” said Margaret Miner, executive director of Rivers Alliance of CT. “Unlike the situation in Connecticut, where the state has authority to administer Clean Water Act programs, in Massachusetts the EPA is directly in charge of sewage treatment operations. To be consistent with its own standards, EPA should require the notorious Springfield facility to clean up and quit polluting the Connecticut River, which runs all the way from Springfield through Connecticut and into Long Island Sound. We look forward to welcoming clean water coming out of Springfield.”

“Long Island Sound supports an economy that transcends state borders, and protecting it should be a shared responsibility,” said Louis Burch of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “When the State of Massachusetts’ wastewater is having an obvious impact on our Sound, common sense dictates that EPA should be holding them to the same strong water quality standards as New York and Connecticut. It’s the neighborly thing to do.”