The Point is a Clean Environment, Right?

Just saw the beginning of the public hearing about $51 million sewer project.  Unless I am missing something the point is to reduce nitrogen from the current average 28 pounds a day and phosphorus from the current 17 pounds a day from the treated sewage we put in the Naugatuck River.  This is Biological Nutrient Removal or BNR which became popular around 1991.

Obviously there is nothing Torrington can do about changing the EPA requirements to reduce the nitrogen we contribute to the Long Island Sound, but it is helpful to know why we are spending such a large amount of money to do so.  And the engineering and architectural firms we have hired mention several other advantages to spending $51 million, but not really.  Suggestions of solar and bio-heating, cooling and lighting as well as suggesting that infrastructure built in 1939 needs replacing do not justify $51 million.  Certainly it is possible that some updating is necessary and good for the community.  But most of Torrington was built in 1939 or before.  Our population in 1939 was about 27k, and now is about 37k.

But we should understand the issue, and the questions, surrounding our need to limit our nitrogen waste to the  Long Island Sound and the phosphorus to the Naugatuck river.  In waste water nitrogen appears as ammonia, and so BNR is what we call the process that will remove ammonia from our waste water.  Nitrogen causes algae to grow especially in hot weather which contributes to low oxygen levels in the colder deep waters of Long Island Sound, called hypoxia, and that can affect ocean life.

The problem the EPA is telling Torrington to help solve with expanding BNR and spending $51 million is hypoxia in Long Island Sound mainly during August every year.  Here is a link to every map available through the EPA of the hypoxia problem which BNR in Torrington just might affect.  i urge everyone to check these maps for themselves as I can find no printed analysis of the problem.


It seems to me no one will say clearly what the plan is.  But it seems to me the plan is that if all of the communities reduce their nitrogen discharge through BNR there will be more oxygen in the deep waters of Long Island Sound in August.  If there is more to it than that I would appreciate someone explaining what else is worth $51 million to Torrington.

Perhaps this is all good and true and right, that stopping hypoxia in Long Island Sound by spending $51 million in Torrington and like amounts in every other community  for BNR might be good for the whole world.  If so let’s be clear about it.  Is Torrington contributing $51 million to a BNR program because of a dubious EPA plan that may increase fish populations in Long Island Sound?

Human beings are not the cause of hypoxia.  The main cause is calm weather which keeps oxygenated upper waters from mixing with the cold deeps.  And nitrogen is byproduct of ammonia which can come from many biological sources.  We don’t know if messing with nitrogen levels is helping, hurting, natural or unnatural, or if our $51 million will have any impact at all on the Long Island Sound now or ever.  The EPA says “studies of the limited historical data base for the Sound suggest that summer oxygen depletion in Western Long Island Sound has grown worse since the 1950s”.  So the EPA believes the data suggests that hypoxia is worse now than it was in 1950.  But there is no statistical analysis I can find that shows such improvement and maps certainly don’t show any improvement since 1991 when the EPA started collecting data. I urge all of you to look at the maps yourselves.  We don’t know if hypoxia was better or worse in Long Island Sound when Columbus landed.

People in Torrington will not change the EPA, and it is possible that our efforts to slow hypoxia in the Long Island Sound are good for fish populations whether those fish populations are better or worse than they were in the year 1492.  That is not the point.  The point is we are about to spend $51 million on a program that has not been shown to have any impact at all and may or may not be required by the EPA.  We need to see the issues clearly and answer the questions about the effectiveness of our money in reaching environmental goals.

Beside fish populations who else might benefit from this $51 million?  Certainly the construction industry of the area.  But what surprises me, well, not really, is the $7 million or so that goes to “technical specialists” and administration and cost saving analysis.  That part of the program is what I question.  Who is worth so much money to advise us to spend so much on this project  without answering the questions I ask here?  And don’t we have a municipal government that can administer this money without paying so much to “specialists”?

Perhaps it is so simple that I am missing it.  The EPA requires BNR that may or may not reduce hypoxia in the Long Island Sound.  We need to spend $51 million ($7 million or so on the professionals who advise us to do so) and that is the end of the story.  If this is the issue say so clearly.  If not please tell me where I am wrong.  My suspicion is there is an EPA requirement that leads our government hire these specialists that cost so much money.  At least that is how it works in the Connecticut DEEP, but that is the issue of a different letter.





Other than reducing these two

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