EPA Tells Johnston, N. Providence to Improve Water Quality

By ecoRI News staff

This Rhode Island manhole cover was blown off by a June 2006 sewer overflow. (EPA)

This Rhode Island manhole cover was blown off by a June 2006 sewer overflow. (EPA)

Two recent administrative consent orders between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the towns of Johnston and North Providence, R.I., will result in cleaner water and improved environmental conditions, according to the federal agency. Both towns have been required to identify and eliminate the causes of sewage overflows from their collection systems.

In Johnston, based on reports received from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the EPA had reason to believe that overflows were occurring from point sources in the town’s sewage collection system and entering waters protected under the federal Clean Water Act. In May, the agency issued a request to the town requiring that it submit information regarding past overflows, pump-station failures, and to report overflows to the EPA and DEM in an ongoing manner in the future.

Since the EPA believed that Johnston needed to take additional actions regarding its sewer collection system to prevent future clean-water violations, the agency has entered into an administrative order on consent” with the town requiring that it develop a plan to address the underlying causes of sewage overflows, including a pump-station-condition assessment, and conduct necessary repairs and take other actions to address deficiencies in its collection system.

Its progress implementing these improvements are to be reported to the EPA and DEM in annual reports.

In North Providence, the EPA had previously issued an administrative order to the town requiring that it develop and implement a corrective action to address basement backups. In addition, EPA had required that the town respond to several requests requiring additional information regarding sewage overflows.

To ensure that the town is taking sufficient action, EPA recently entered into an administrative order on consent with the town that consolidates the requirements of the previous order and the information requests and also requires that North Providence evaluate the results of the actions that it has taken to date to address sewage overflows.

As with Johnston, North Providence’s progress implementing the new order are to be reported to the EPA and DEM in annual reports.

The EPA has taken a number of similar actions throughout New England to address sewage overflows. When these overflows occur, raw sewage can enter surface waters or be discharged to streets or private property, where it poses a public-health risk.

Sewage overflows to “waters of the United States” are not allowed under the Clean Water Act. These overflows can be caused by a combination of factors: failures of the system of pipes, pumps and other equipment that municipalities use to collect and transport sewage to wastewater treatment plants; grease and other blockages, such as disposable wipes and tree roots; excess flows entering the collection system.

Implementation of effective preventive maintenance programs have been shown to eliminate or significantly reduce the frequency and volume of these discharges, according to the EPA.