Working on the phosphorus issue; Brumback chairs coordinating committee

By Lisa Capobianco

Staff Writer

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) met with Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback and other municipal water pollution control authorities of surrounding communities on Monday to take the next step in reducing phosphorus levels of non-tidal surface waters from municipal wastewater treatment plant discharges.

This collaborative approach stems from Public Act 12-155, which calls for the collaboration between DEEP and chief elected officials of Southington, Danbury, Meriden, Wallingford, Waterbury and Cheshire to evaluate and make guidelines for the reduction of phosphorus in accordance with United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards.

According to the DEEP, phosphorus becomes a threat to water safety in the state because excess amounts can lead to a reduction in water clarity, and even depletion of oxygen as well as fish kills.

In response to the Public Act, the DEEP has developed a Coordinating Committee co-chaired by Brumback, along with Macky McCleary, the Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Quality at DEEP. Both Brumback and McCleary plan to guide three established workgroups to discuss three major elements of the issue at hand, including the state-wide response to address phosphorus nonpoint source pollution, methods to measure current phosphorus levels and municipal options to meet water quality standards. Each workgroup consists of co-chairs: an elected official of one participating community and a DEEP official.

“We are trying to take a step back a little bit, and not only stop the focus on just one element, but also to look at the entire watershed, and define what success is for a healthy watershed,” Brumback said during the meeting.

Denise Ruzicka, the director of Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse said the establishment of the three workgroups serves as a “logical next step” to address the issue of phosphorus levels.

“We can come up with a collaborative approach that comes from both sides of the equation,” Ruzicka said.

During the meeting, McCleary, Brumback and Ruzicka presented an overview of each workgroup and its desired goals. The first workgroup serves as a state-wide response to phosphorus nonpoint source solution, according to Ruzicka. The second workgroup evaluates and quantifies the role of phosphorus in stream impairment and to determine phosphorus reductions as needed. The third workgroup will develop a technology assessment of new state-of-the-art resources to find possible treatments of phosphorus reductions.

Calling the establishment of these workgroups as a “huge step,” Brumback said working with other local communities and DEEP will “yield better results” altogether.

“It means a lot,” Brumback said. “We are embarking upon a new way of doing business that takes into consideration all aspects of the decision-making process.”

Throughout the decision-making process, the Coordinating Committee will also communicate with EPA, and will hold quarterly meetings with the co-chairs of each workgroup. According to McCleary, each co-chair is responsible for schedules, organization and meeting agendas.

“I am excited to move this process forward,” McCleary said during the meeting. “I think we can continue to provide a model for the nation.”

The committee must submit a report on the committee’s progress to the legislature by October 1, 2014.

Earlier this year, Southington, Meriden, and Wallingford, whose sewage plants discharge into the Quinnipiac River, won a negotiation with DEEP for a higher phosphorus discharge limit in the next five years, bringing the limit up to .7-milligram-per-liter and cutting millions of dollars in capital costs.

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