Coast Guard Academy finds building drains shower water into river

The gym of Billard Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy pictured in September 2016.  Academy staff found that shower water from a locker room in the building was designed to flow into a stormwater drainage pipe, causing millions of gallons of water to flow into the Thames River since 1932. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The gym of Billard Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy pictured in September 2016. Academy staff found that shower water from a locker room in the building was designed to flow into a stormwater drainage pipe, causing millions of gallons of water to flow into the Thames River since 1932. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Water from showers and locker room floors in a Coast Guard Academy building has been draining into the Thames River for 85 years, academy facilities workers discovered while fixing a clogged drain last month.

The water lines flowing from a women's staff locker room in Billard Hall, one of the original buildings on the New London campus and built in 1932, were connected to a storm water pipe that runs into the river, according to Coast Guard Academy spokesman David Santos.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee, Cmdr. Josh Fant, academy facilities engineer, estimated that the total drainage into the Thames from the locker room amounts to 33,600 gallons a year, or more than 2.8 million gallons since 1932.

The discovery follows a similar revelation in March that more than 810,000 gallons of untreated wastewater over 20 years had been emptying into the Thames River from Roland Hall, a newer athletic building next to Billard Hall that was built in 1967.

Following the Billard Hall discovery, the academy is planning a review of the water, storm drain and sewer line infrastructure across the campus to determine if any other improper water connections exist.

Ryan McCammon, an inspector for the Ledge Light Health District, said Tuesday that the health district has been notified of the discovery and the repair.

Because of the daily discharge into the river — an estimated 140 gallons a day — was "extremely minute" in relation to the millions of gallons that flow through the river daily, he said the likelihood of any environmental or health effects was minimal.

"We're happy that they found it and they've made permanent corrections," he said.

Both DEEP and the health district can issue fines to those that improperly discharge water into waterways, but McCammon said Ledge Light would not fine the Coast Guard Academy in this case because the problem was promptly corrected.

Ledge Lights conducts tests for bacteria and other contaminates weekly at two locations along the river's shoreline — Greens Harbor Beach in New London and Eastern Point Beach in Groton — every summer, McCammon said.

Any contamination health district officials have found in the 20 years they have conducted the tests was unlikely to have originated at the Coast Guard Academy, he said.

Before the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, McCammon said, it was common for buildings built along the Thames to drain directly into the river.

"Environmental laws have changed a little bit since 1932," he said.

Restrooms properly connected

The Billard Hall problem was discovered when academy staff were repairing a clogged floor drain in the locker room, which is used for wrestling meets and also houses a pool and various fitness and weight training facilities. Billard Hall also houses the academy's Athletic Hall of Fame displays.

The building's drainage connection to the storm drain, which Santos said the academy was not aware of before last month, did not break any regulations at the time Billard Hall was built, he said.

The connection under Billard Hall drained water from seven showers and four floor drains in a locker room in that building.

Toilets and restroom facilities in Billard Hall building were properly connected to sewer lines and did not drain into the river, Santos said.

The drainage constitutes a violation of DEEP regulations on "illicit discharge," according to the letter to Klee.

Academy staff closed the building and shut off water to the locker room after the connection was discovered, Santos said. The shower and floor drains have since been connected to a sanitary sewer line that leads to the city's sewage treatment plant, and the old storm drain has been removed. The repairs were completed by a contractor on Thursday, Santos said.

The discharge from Roland Hall came from the showers, sinks and toilets in two locker rooms used by women's varsity teams and visiting teams, according to Santos.

A contractor mistakenly created that cross connection during a 1997 renovation of Roland Hall, and the problem was discovered in March during a required assessment of the academy's utilities.

The connection that routed water from Billard Hall into a storm drain was part of the original design of the building, Santos said.

Both buildings sit about 1,000 feet from the bank of the river on the southern end of the campus.

The planned review would begin with buildings built during the 1932 relocation of the academy to its current campus, and continue down to the waterfront and north toward the campus' newer buildings, Santos said.

In an email statement sent to The Day, Cmdr. Fant said the review is not mandated by DEEP but is "the right thing to do."

"It will take considerable time and be costly due to the size of the campus, its age and the number of pipes and connections involved," Fant said, "but it's the right thing to do to assure the our community that there are no further issues of this type on our campus."

A campus map shows more than 20 buildings on the grounds.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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