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Rhode Island Town Will Pay Fines for Illegal Sewage Discharges

Release Date: 03/11/2008
Contact Information: Paula Ballentine (617) 918-1027

BOSTON - In a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the Town of Bristol, Rhode Island has agreed to pay a $75,000 fine and spend an additional $62,800 to conduct a “supplemental environmental project” that will improve the water quality of storm water runoff at a town beach parking lot. The Agreement also calls for the Town to take additional measures to address its longstanding problems of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) that have resulted in the release of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the environment over many years.

The recent settlement with Bristol stems from an EPA Administrative Compliance Order and Penalty Action requiring the Town to take specific actions to fix its longstanding SSO problems. The Order sought penalties for Clean Water Act violations, including an incident in 2005 where failure to maintain or replace critical aged pump equipment was found to cause the overflow of some four million gallons of untreated sewage to Bristol Harbor. The incident led to a 17-day shellfish bed closure.

“This action brings us one step closer toward achieving our long-term goal of completely eliminating sanitary sewer overflows that contribute to water quality problems in Rhode Island’s treasured waterways,” stated Robert W. Varney, Administrator of EPA’s New England Regional Office. “We can no longer wait to invest in the pipes under our streets until we read about beach or shellfish bed closures in our communities.”

EPA New England, in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), launched an effort in Rhode Island over the past year to rid the Ocean State of SSOs by using a wide range of compliance tools -- including compliance assistance workshops and training, and enforcement. EPA issued Administrative Compliance Orders in February and August 2007 to Bristol and several other Rhode Island municipalities that own or operate wastewater collection systems. The Orders required each utility to perform a full assessment of their wastewater infrastructure in order to determine the cause and extent of problems within each system and required each system to come up with a plan to fix the problems in order to eliminate future SSOs. Bristol and other communities have been working to address these long-standing problems that are causing SSOs, but the solutions often require significant financial investments and long-term technical fixes.

SSOs occur when there is an overflow, spill, or release of raw or partially-treated sewage from a sanitary sewer collection system before it reaches a sewage treatment plant. Such releases regularly contaminate our nation’s waters, degrade water quality and expose humans to viruses and other pathogens that can cause serious illness. In addition, these discharges can occur as basement backups, causing property damage and further threatening public health.

A critical component of EPA and RIDEM’s ongoing efforts to eliminate SSOs in Rhode Island is educating municipal officials across the state about the problem. EPA and RIDEM are offering workshops, meetings, on-site visits, and other technical assistance to help municipalities improve their operation and maintenance programs and plan for long-term financial investment in their wastewater infrastructure. EPA is currently developing a preventative maintenance plan template to help wastewater collection system operators identify and prevent problems that can lead to SSOs.

As part of the joint training efforts, RIDEM is sponsoring a workshop for municipal leaders on the critical value of wastewater infrastructure maintenance, various regulatory initiatives and government-sponsored assistance programs that are dedicated to clean, safe water. This workshop, which includes presentations from the EPA on federal initiatives and from RIDEM on infrastructure financing alternatives, will be in Warwick, RI on March 26, 2008.

For more information on EPA’s enforcement and assistance efforts to eliminate SSOs in Rhode Island ( or Sustainable water infrastructure (