PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to the Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) for environmental violations arising from the 2018 collapse of sewer pipes in the city's wastewater collection system that resulted in the discharge of wastewater into Cedar Swamp, Buckeye Brook, and Little Pond.
The NOV charges the WSA with violations of Rhode Island's Water Pollution Control Act, and the Water Quality Regulations, RI Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Regulations, and Rules and Regulations for the Operation and Maintenance of Wastewater Treatment Facilities. The enforcement action includes a $27,500 penalty.
In August 2018 WSA notified DEM that wastewater was overflowing from the collection system on Cedar Swamp Road due to a collapsed section of sewer pipe in the Oakland Beach Interceptor. Although WSA set up pumps to bypass the collapsed section of the pipe, 300,000 gallons of wastewater were discharged to Cedar Swamp and Buckeye Brook. In response to the overflow, DEM implemented a shellfish closure in upper Narragansett Bay and DEM and the Department of Health issued an advisory to the public to refrain from contact recreation, fishing, and boating in Buckeye Brook, Old Mill Creek, and Mill Cove Beach. In addition to causing the shellfish closure and contact recreation advisory, the overflow further degraded the water quality of Buckeye Brook, Old Mill Creek, and Upper Narragansett Bay.
In November 2018, the sewer authority notified DEM that wastewater was overflowing from the collection system on Sandy Lane due to a partially collapsed section of the Sandy Lane sewer pipe. Although WSA set up pumps to bypass the partially collapsed section of the pipe, 26,000 gallons of wastewater were discharged to Little Pond. Little Pond is a Class B waterbody and designated for fish and wildlife habitat, primary and secondary recreational activities, with good aesthetic value.
"While DEM's enforcement action targets the city for these two sewer line collapses, which had significant environmental impacts, we need to be clear that every community that has sewer infrastructure must be vigilant in how they operate, maintain, fund, and staff their wastewater collections and treatment systems," said DEM Deputy Director Terrence Gray. "Wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure often is some of the most expensive and complex infrastructure that a community may own, and it's mostly out of sight."
DEM's enforcement action orders WSA to submit a comprehensive program and schedule for the inspection and maintenance of all components of the sanitary sewerage collection system to DEM within 60 days of receipt of the NOV. The schedule shall prioritize the identification and inspection of components of the system that will most likely need repair and are at the greatest risk of failure, and must include aggressive deadlines for the repair/replacement of any sewer lines found to need repair or replacement; assurances of funding and other needed components and resources; and adequate staffing to meet the needs of WSA's Capacity, Management, Operations, and Maintenance program.
The Warwick Sewer Authority has notified DEM that it is appealing the NOV and seeking a hearing before DEM's Administrative Adjudication Division.
Wastewater collection and treatment is considered a "lifeline" sector within statewide critical infrastructure analyses. Threats to this infrastructure include natural hazards — which in part are being addressed by $5 million in resiliency grants recently announced by DEM and the RI Infrastructure Bank — but also emerging consumer products, like flushable wipes, which do not break down in sewer systems and are racking up significant costs in sewer line maintenance around the nation and world. But the historical, ongoing threat to all wastewater infrastructure is inadequate operations and maintenance, which can have major consequences to the environment and public health.
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