The East Shore water treatment plant is gearing up to spend the first chunk of a hoped-for $450 million to prepare for super storms and to send less sewage into the Q, Mill, and West rivers and Long Island Sound.
Local environmental activists like Lynne Bonnett support the project’s general goals but are calling for a lot less of that public money to be spent on new buildings and upgrades at the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority’s (GNHWPCA) East Shore plant.
They want to prevent thousands of gallons of stormwater ever from reaching East Shore. They want to do this through more holding tanks being built at places like the city’s schools, pilot flow meters studies at selected locations, rain gardens in your back yard, permeable surface requirements in those new surface parking lots, nifty new catch basins upgrades and other natural infiltration systems throughout town.
We’re doing some of that, GNHWPCA Director of Engineering Tom Sgroi told the activists this week.
Not enough, responded Bonnett, who lives near the plant on the East Shore on used to chair the New Haven Environmental Justice Network.
The battle of what’s known among participants as “grey infrastructure” versus “green infrastructure” engaged Wednesday night at the regular meeting of the City Plan Commission.
GNHWPCA officials appeared seeking site plan approval for the $50 million first phase of a multi-decade $446 million master plan, almost all of which is paid for through public monies.
City Plan commissioners ended up delaying approval because GNHWPCA was not quite ready: One small sliver of land on which a new chlorine tank is to be placed remains owned by the city, not the authority, which the city spun off as a separate suburban-controlled agency seven budget cycles ago entity to close a one-time budget gap.
Commissioners voted unanimously a 65-day extension for that property transfer to close. The site plan is likely to come before the commissioners next month.
Since they were there, Sgroi, the authority’s manager of design, Mario Ricozzi (pictured) and other officials gave a Power Point presentation about the master plan.
The plan is mandated by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. It features what officials called a three-fold strategy: reducing stormwater through green infrastructure, millions to improve the system’s old pipes, and and maximizing treatment capacity of the East Shore plant.
The master plan seeks to address what it calls “wet weather requirements”—to deal with the overflows from the heavy rains that are increasingly expected.
When the master plan is complete (which will take decades), a 30 percent reduction would allegedly result in CSOs, combined sewer overflows, or untreated waters entering the rivers, harbor and Sound. Sgroi called that reduction “substantial.”
CSOs occur after heavy rains that overburden the city’s pipes. If the pipes are not separated, and the water is sufficiently furious, the sewage, which is kept back in the pipe by weirs, overflows and runs out into the city’s rivers through some two dozen outfall pipes, like this one at the Q River.
Under immediate discussion in phase one, which Sgroi said the DEEP has approved, were new buildings for odor control and storage among others. Ricozzi said that the result would be a rise of from 100 to 187 million gallons that would get enhanced treatment.
He said the planned electrical building with new generators would be built sufficiently high above the flood plane so that “if we lose power from the grid, we can generate ourselves.”
Ricozzi said separating pipes is part of the ongoing plan.
Lynne Bonnet estimated many New Haven neighborhoods, particularly Fair Haven, West River, and Newhallville, remain with pipes largely unseparated. That is why more needs to be done, and urgently, to keep the stormwater from entering the system, she said.
In developing its master plan, GNHWPCA held two public meetings, in June and September 2012. Bonnett said many of the questions raised at those gatherings about using more green infrastructure, rather than the grey of new plant buildings, remain inadequately addressed.
One was the cost of building holding tanks in key locations. She said one such tank beneath the Truman School athletic facility holds six million gallons of run-off and was built for $10 million.
In a polite but pointed discussion in the hallway after the Power Point, Bonnett and Sgroi disagreed on the true price per gallon of, for example, building holding tanks, with Bonnett asserting that the authority views green infrastructure as not as desirable or cost effective as grey.
“You said you are not addressing infiltration [devices getting the water into the ground before any pipe],” Bonnett said.
“We are addressing it,” Sgroi countered.
In a public email to respond to such assertions that Bonnett had written and which were passed along through the email tree of the East Shore Management Team, authority Executive Director Sydney Holbrook, wrote: “We will continue to consider opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure as part of our long term approach ... We again remind you that stormwater management and therefore more numerous opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure is the responsibility of the City.”
One of Bonnett’s frustrations is just as water doesn’t have specific boundaries, the city, state, and the authority are not coordinating their efforts, she said. She said the EPA has a solution to such alleged dysfunction, a program called “integrated planning.” But it must be asked for.
“They [the three entities] clearly need to meet. I asked [Tom Sgroi] if the EPA can come in. He said, ‘That’s way over my pay grade. Talk to Syd. Some of that first phase $50 million has to go to green infrastructure,” Bonnett asserted.