WESTERLY — The Town Council on Monday will review the latest proposal for tackling the problem of unauthorized connections to the municipal sewer system, which officials say continue to place high demands on the treatment plant and could cause sewage backups in homes and roadways.
The problem involves property owners who divert rainwater from roof down spouts, window wells and basement sump pumps into the sewer system, where the rain water mixes with wastewater and is treated at the sewer plant on Margin Street. During large rain storms, the unauthorized inflow causes significant increases over the plant's average daily flow. The additional water into the system adds hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary treatment costs, officials say.
The council will hear from Bill Beauregard, assistant director of public works, and Dylan Conley, a lawyer who represents the town, on proposed sewer ordinance amendments and other potential steps intended to address the problem. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and can be viewed at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88429699740. Those wishing to participate by phone can call 929-205-6099 or 877-853-5257. The meeting identification number is 884 2969 9740.
Beauregard and Conley are expected to review changes to the sewer ordinance aimed at removing sources of unauthorized inflow. The inflow removal program will help the town meet requirements of a new pollutant discharge elimination system permit that is being sought from the state Department of Environmental Management. The permit allows the town to operate the sewer treatment plant where wastewater is treated before being discharged into the Pawcatuck River. In conjunction with the new permit, upgrades to the treatment plant will also be required.
"We were told we needed to upgrade our sewer ordinance in order to upgrade the sewer treatment plant," Town Council President Sharon Ahern said.
Amendments to the sewer ordinance will allow town officials or designated officials to inspect private property for suspected unauthorized inflow connections and will also establish a loan program for property owners who need help paying to disconnect and otherwise address stormwater on their property. When appropriate and approved, property owners will be able to redirect the inflows into the stormwater system. Property owners with unauthorized sewer system inflows will be granted a 12-month amnesty period to correct unauthorized inflows.
Ahern said she hoped the loan program would be helpful to property owners who may have had unauthorized inflow hookups for many years.
"Apparently this has been a long-standing issue ... which makes it harder to address in a lot of ways but part of the sewer ordinance package is to provide some sort of economic relief for people who have had this as a long-standing problem and probably wont be able to afford a fix right away. The town manager has been very clear that he doesn't want this to be a financial burden for people," Ahern said.
The proposed program and ordinance changes follow a $1 million expenditure since 2018 by the town on repairs to the sewer system to stop stormwater from infiltrating through cracks in pipes. Despite those efforts, officials believe unauthorized inflows also present a significant problem. According to a memorandum from Beauregard to the Town Council, a rain storm on Oct. 27, 2019 resulted in a wastewater flow of nearly four times the daily average at the treatment plant.