Save the Sound files suit against towns over Clean Water Act violations

Ongoing sewage overflows in Westchester threaten public health and degrade Long Island Sound; Save the Sound brings suit to spur long-term regional solution

Save the Sound has filed suit in federal court against 11 Westchester municipalities over violations of the Clean Water Act.

Allegations against the municipalities of Rye, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, Harrison, Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Pelham Manor, Port Chester, and White Plains have been added to a suit against Westchester County filed in federal court in August. Different specific claims apply to different entities, but Save the Sound alleges that all of these municipalities are responsible for ongoing sewage leaks of raw and inadequately treated sewage into Long Island Sound and its tributaries that risk public health, harm the environment, and violate federal, state, and county law.

The western Sound and waters surrounding Westchester County got a D+ in an ecological report card released in June 2015. Save the Sound’s own water quality monitoring found significant and disturbing bacterial pollution in Westchester waters in the summers of 2013, 2014, and 2015, confirming what officials have known for over a decade—local waterways are polluted with high levels of fecal bacteria. Sewage contains high levels of nitrogen that rob the Sound of oxygen and pathogenic bacteria that can cause diarrhea, pink eye, ear infections, and serious illnesses.

“The presence of untreated sewage in our waters is unacceptable, and a danger to public health and the health of the Sound,”said Tracy Brown, director of Western Sound programs for Save the Sound. “Because of old, leaking, and poorly maintained sewer pipes, Westchester beaches are closed after rain, we’re prohibited from harvesting clams or oyster in our local bays and harbors, and we’re at risk for waterborne illnesses. Nitrogen from sewage contributes to low-oxygen dead zones—including a major one right off Westchester’s shores every summer—and to large, unsightly mats of nuisance algae.”

Rainwater, groundwater, and illegal hook-ups flow into cracked sewer pipes causing raw sewage to overflow onto streets and into streams before reaching a treatment plant. Since at least 2003, state, county, and municipal officials have known that much more needs to be done, and have failed to effectively address the problem.

Specifically, Save the Sound’s suit alleges that:

  1. The County and the 11 municipalities illegally discharged raw sewage into rivers and Long Island Sound through Sanitary Sewer Overflows, and created a public nuisance by discharging raw and partially treated sewage that resulted in beach and shellfish bed closings and other harms.
  2. The County failed to enforce the Westchester County Sewer Act against all the municipalities as required by its Clean Water Act permits, and failed to require municipalities to reduce their flow as required by a 2008 Consent Order with the State.  A recent study shows that all municipalities are violating the Sewer Act which sets a limit on flow designed to prevent the kind of sewage overflows that plague the region.
  3. The County and the municipalities of New Rochelle, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Larchmont, and Village of Pelham Manor have illegally discharged partially treated sewage from large underground sewage tanks, known as Overflow Retention Facilities.
  4. The Town/Village of Harrison, the Town of Mamaroneck, the Village of Mamaroneck, the City of Rye, the Village of Scarsdale, and the City of White Plains violated their stormwater discharge permits by discharging raw and inadequately treated sewage from their stormwater systems.
  5. Westchester County, the Village of Mamaroneck, the Village of Port Chester, the City of Rye, and the Village of Rye Brook discharged pollutants in violation of the permit limits at the Blind Brook and Port Chester Sewage Treatment Plants.

Save the Sound is joined by Long Island Soundkeeper and Atlantic Clam Farms of Connecticut, a commercial shellfishing business. Because of pollution from sewage discharges into Long Island Sound, Atlantic Clam Farms has been prohibited from shellfishing in the area of the Sound along the Westchester coastline, as have other commercial and recreational shellfishermen. “Pollution entering the Sound from sewage leaks and overflows has gone on too long and needs to be stopped,” said Soundkeeper Terry Backer. “Soundkeeper is happy to be a part of this legal action to get resolution to this ongoing issue.”

The plaintiffs are calling on the municipalities and the County to fix leaking pipes, establish enforceable timelines for repairs, develop sufficient funding sources for future maintenance, and establish a plan for the long term maintenance of the sewage collection systems to avoid future pollution and costly repairs.

“The citizens of Westchester County have waited decades for effective action. Municipalities must step up efforts to find and eliminate illegal discharges of raw and partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound and its tributaries, and they must do so now,” Brown said. “Our goal with this lawsuit is to get all the responsible parties to the table to reach a comprehensive, long-term solution to this decades-old infrastructure problem, improving both Long Island Sound’s water quality and quality of life for Westchester residents.”

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Save the Sound is a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment with an established 40-year track record of restoring and protecting the waters and shorelines of the Sound. From its offices in Mamaroneck and New Haven, Save the Sound works for a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant Long Island Sound where humans and marine life can prosper year-round. Our success is based on scientific knowledge, legal expertise, and thousands of ordinary people teaming up achieve results that benefit our environment for current and future generations. Visit our website for details on Save the Sound’s water quality monitoring program, including June-August 2015 data.

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