By Lauresha Xhihani
Special to The Observer
Three towns on the Quinnipiac River have won a partial victory in their effort to avoid steep costs of removing phosphorus discharges from their sewage plants.
Meriden, Wallingford and Southington, whose sewage treatment plants discharge into the Quinnipiac River, have successfully negotiated with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for a higher phosphorous discharge limit over the next five years, putting off millions in capital costs.
The DEEP has set limits for phosphorous releases on some 43 entities, the overwhelming majority of them sewage treatment plants that discharge into 21 water bodies.
The limits were set based on the quality of water in the state’s rivers, with municipalities along the Naugatuck and Quinnipiac rivers having some of the most stringent limits. Discharges into these rivers must be comparable to drinking water.
Phosphorous is found in fertilizer, some laundry detergents and in dishwashing detergents. Too much phosphorous can trigger algae blooms, reducing in the clarity of water. In extreme cases, this can lead to depletion of oxygen and fish kills, according to the DEEP.
Nutrient enrichment from nitrogen and phosphorous has been identified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most pressing water quality issues in the nation, and the EPA has mandated that all New England states establish phosphorus limits in all wastewater discharge permits.
When the limits were disclosed in 2011, municipal officials balked at the expenses they would have to face. Four Quinnipiac towns – Meriden, Wallingford, Cheshire and Southington – whose discharge permits were up for renewal, would have had to spend a combined $56 million in capital improvements and $2 million in yearly operation costs to comply with limits of .2 and .1 milligrams of phosphorus per liter
Municipal officials and their representatives in the legislature pushed back.
“It’s a lot of money under ideal circumstances. Under present circumstances it’s an unreasonable level of expectation, and to their credit DEEP listened,” said Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback.
Legislation passed last year allows for municipalities to be reimbursed at a 30 percent rate from the federally funded and state-administered Clean Water Fund for projects related to phosphorous removal. The same legislation mandates that DEEP work with the towns on the issue.
Southington, Meriden and Wallingford banded together, hiring a lobbying firm and negotiated with DEEP. It paid off.
Draft discharge permits recently issued to Meriden, Wallingford and Southington allow a .7-milligram-per-liter phosphorous discharge over the next five years.
For Southington, Brumback said, compliance would now mean a “much more manageable” $50,000 in capital improvement expenses and $30,000 per year in operating costs.
The three Quinnipiac towns were issued “an interim” limit, said DEEP Water Protection and Land Use Bureau Chief Betsy Wingfield. The interim limit extends the time the the three towns have to comply with the much lower limits. With the interim limit, the plants will be reducing their phosphorous discharge into the Quinnipiac by 72 percent.
“That’s significant,” Wingfield said.
Brumback is hoping that in five years the phosphorous level on the Quinnipiac will have dropped, making it unnecessary for the still-prohibitive expense of going to a much lower phosphorous discharge limit. Southington is looking to reach its new limit by April, Brumback said.