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North Stonington looks to test surface water quality for potential sewage pollution for first time since 1976

North Stonington — Surface water testing that would provide early signs of impending sewage problems has not been done by the town since 1976, according to a request for proposals published last month.

The town sought bidders to resume and reevaluate a water quality monitoring program launched by the Water Pollution Control Authority in 1972. The program aimed to periodically test samples from surface waters — such as lakes, ponds and rivers — that potentially could be polluted by failing septic systems. 

The request for proposals, which closed July 16, yielded no bidders, and First Selectman Mike Urgo said the Board of Selectmen will begin exploring future ways to implement the testing program.

Testing was first done in 1972 and again in 1976 before the disbanding of the WPCA that year. According to a WPCA report, all of its members resigned "due to lack of cooperation from town officials." The group was reformed by the town in 1993 and, in 1994, the WPCA adopted a Water Pollution Control Plan to maintain the program started in the '70s and continuously monitor conditions until municipal sewer services would be needed.

Despite adopting the plan in 1994, no new testing was done. Additionally, none of the actions named in the plan were implemented despite the WPCA's "good intentions," according to the request for proposals.

"They were supposed to do (testing) every year and keep an inventory of any new septic systems or any commercial development or industrial development that might have an impact," said Juliet Hodge, the town's planning, development and zoning official. "I have no idea what happened in '94, that never occurred, so no water testing has been done."

Should testing find pollution, the town will have to decide whether to build its own sewage treatment plant or tie in with Stonington's. Hodge said the town is "nowhere near that" and is focused on completing testing. She added that, had there been pollution issues, it "would have come out by now."

"There's been no complaints of anything, there's no obvious pollution, it's just keeping an eye on it," Hodge said. "It's the best way to find if there are any issues is to do this water testing. We haven't had the kind of development that I would be worried about it."

By state and federal requirements, towns are not obligated to routinely test their surface water. However, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is required to test water across the state every two years, according to the Clean Water Act. In its biennial testing, DEEP assesses a percentage of surface waters across the state and compiles a report on the findings.

Based on DEEP testing data spanning 2011-19 in North Stonington, levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, the main elements that come out of septic systems and eventually are discharged into surface waters, were not found to be high.

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