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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DEEP flexible on phosphorus rules

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday April 25, 2012

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230

Officials say a coalition of cities and towns facing new state phosphorus regulations has gained some ground in their fight to change phosphorus limits proposed by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback said DEEP has agreed to town-requested phosphorus limits for seven to nine years, although the department wants municipalities to move to more aggressive limits after that time. He said a lobbying firm hired by the towns and work with state legislators have been effective in arguing the case for easing phosphorus limits.

“DEEP is willing to work with us on that,” Brumback said. “The coalition has had its value. Our legislative delegation has had its value.”

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said the department was working with municipalities and understood the “need to balance environmental objectives with the financial constraints facing all levels of government.”

Southington, Wallingford, Meriden and Danbury are some of the 45 towns in the state that will face restrictions on the amount of phosphorus that can be discharged from wastewater treatment plants into rivers. Municipal officials say the limits are too stringent, too expensive and haven’t been shown to be necessary.

DEEP officials said the effort to remove phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms and depletion of oxygen in the water when present in excessive amounts, is being led by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Schain said the department is proposing to allow Southington and Wallingford seven years after the issue of the upcoming wastewater treatment plant permit to achieve 0.2 parts per million. Meriden would have nine years after the next wastewater treatment plant permit to achieve 0.1 parts per million. Brumback said Southington is now at 2.8 parts per million. Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that, while there has been some progress, the main issue of expensive upgrades to water treatment plants hasn’t been resolved. He said the 0.2 parts per million phosphorus limit which could be required by DEEP would cost Wallingford $60 million.

“I continue to have a concern about signing off on something with that kind of a price tag,” he said. “That’s a lot to commit to.”

Dickinson said the lobbying firm, Gara & Markowski Government Relations, of West Hartford, has been instrumental in getting the towns’ message to state officials. The firm was hired jointly by the towns at a cost of $25,000.

“I think that has been a very important piece of this to organize efforts,” he said.

Brumback said he’s hoping DEEP will allow towns to get to the 0.7 phosphorus limit — which would cost Southington $50,000 — and see if that improves water quality before mandating the 0.2 limit. He said the lower limit would cost the town $18 million.

Brumback said he’s concerned with the piecemeal approach to cleaning up the waterways taken by DEEP and the EPA. He said the town has spent money removing nitrogen and in doing so used phosphorus. The town is now faced with removing phosphorus, and the easiest way to do so is by using metal salts. Brumback said those metal salts are next on regulators’ lists of materials to be taken out of the water.

“There’s not an approach there that makes any sense,” Brumback said.

He said the towns are trying to set up a meeting with EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding to talk about what the agency wants.

Brumback said he wants a “science-based strategy that defines what our goals are for our waterways and what are economically feasible ways to achieve those goals.”

“We don’t know what the target is. We don’t even know what they’re contemplating,” Brumback said.

“Wastewater treatment standards have been constantly evolving since the 1960s,” Schain said. “We believe the phosphorus limits we’re talking about will continue to move us forward to achieve water quality standards outlined in the Clean Water Act, and that’s the objective.”

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