Ledge Light estimates CG Academy sewage discharge at 810,000 gallons
New London — An inspector for Ledge Light Health District estimated Tuesday that a total of 810,000 gallons of untreated wastewater emptied into the Thames River from the Coast Guard Academy over a 20-year period, in violation of state laws prohibiting discharges of raw sewage into the state’s waters.
Ryan McCammon, senior sanitarian for the health district, said he based his calculation on the number of showers, sinks and toilets in the two locker rooms in the Roland Hall field house that were recently found to be discharging directly into a storm drain that empties in the river. The discharge was supposed to be directed into a sanitary sewer service line that would take the wastewater to the city’s treatment plant.
McCammon inspected the two locker rooms on Tuesday morning, a day after the health district became aware that the Coast Guard had discovered it had been polluting the river with its discharges. DEEP had previously submitted a form to Ledge Light notifying them about the incident, but it did not immediately come to the attention of health district officials.
The discharge was uncovered during a March 29 assessment of utilities in the lower half of the academy, said David Santos, spokesman for the academy. Once the problem was detected, the two locker rooms were closed and water service shut off to those areas.
One of the locker rooms is used by varsity women’s teams, and the other is used by visiting teams. Together they have 10 showers, four sinks and five toilets. Larger men's and women's locker rooms and bathrooms used by spectators at sporting events at Roland Hall were not connected to the same discharge pipe and are not affected by the closure.
“It will be some time before we can make a permanent correction,” Santos said.
The incident is a source of chagrin for the academy, which trains cadets to enforce environmental laws pertaining to waterways, among other missions.
The problem is believed to have occurred in 1997, when a contractor doing work on the two locker rooms cross-connected the wastewater lines into the storm drains instead of the sewer line. Santos could not provide the name of the contractor.
After the work was done, it was inspected by the Coast Guard’s Facilities Design and Construction Center, Santos said. The center provides long-range planning and design services for Coast Guard buildings.
Officials at the center could not be reached to comment Tuesday.
The Day has filed a freedom of information request for information about the contractor and the 1997 inspection.
During his inspection, McCammon said he verified that water had been shut off, checked the storm drain outfall and calculated the total discharge. He also learned about the process used to find the problem, which included investigation with a scope and dye testing of the discharge pipes.
He said the cross-connection happened because the sewer and storm drain pipes are the same color. In most new construction, he said, different colors are used to distinguish the two lines.
Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that while discharging raw sewage into waterways violates state law, DEEP focuses on immediate corrective action.
“The key is stopping it and getting it fixed,” he said. “In a case like this, who are you going to penalize? Unless we feel that something was done willfully or there was a purposeful intention to deceive, we focus on getting them back into compliance.”
He noted that on July 1, updated storm water regulations will take effect covering discharges from institutions such as colleges and federal and state facilities. Existing regulations do not require institutions to obtain a state storm water discharge permit, he said.
The new regulations will also require routine testing of storm water outfalls, so that cross-connections can be detected proactively, he said.
“One of (the) major upgrades in new permit(s) is a focus on so-called ‘illicit connections’ to storm drain systems,” Schain said. “So there are more requirements for inspections of outflows aimed in part at detecting cases exactly like ... the Coast Guard Academy.”
A similar mixing of untreated wastewater and storm water runoff has periodically occurred in older cities, but in recent years infrastructure investments have been correcting the problem.
Norwich was among the cities in the state where storm runoff flowed into the sanitary sewer system. When a heavy rainfall occurred, the system would overflow, resulting in discharges of untreated or partially treated wastewater into the Thames River.
Norwich has made significant progress toward separating the two systems so that no longer occurs.
How much wastewater was dumped into the Thames River?
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