Wednesday, July 30, 2008

OC Sewer Gestapo: Looking for YOU!

In one of the most brazen displays of blame shifting, Oneida County Government claims that the "Source of sewer problem may be private residences"

In other words Oneida County says that YOU are the problem!
“We are pretty convinced that a major part of this problem is on the private side of things between the line in the street and the house,” Oneida County Water Quality and Water Pollution Control Commissioner Steven Devan said Tuesday. . .

In heavy rains, stormwater floods into sanitary sewers, overwhelming the Sauquoit Creek pumpstation. Raw sewage then is mixed in with stormwater that pours into the Mohawk River.

County studies show much of the stormwater that enters the sewer system might come from private residences, Devan said.

For example, some older homes might have roof gutters or sump pumps that are connected to the sanitary sewer lines, he said.

“If we don’t solve the private side of this thing and make repairs on the private side, we probably will never get a handle on this,” Devan said.
No doubt storm water is entering the sewer system through private residences. Some people may have illegally tied their sump pumps into separated sanitary waste lines, and those people should be expected to fix their situations.

But roof gutters and sump pumps leading to combined (sanitary + storm water) sewers was common practice many years ago, and is one of the reasons why the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) was originally permitted at the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station in Yorkville: Pressure in the combined system caused by storm water was allowed to be released by an overflow into the river, rather than by backing up into people's basements. The system was intended to work that way . . . and it was perfectly legal.

The system was never a "problem" -- and there was no illegality -- until Oneida County and (primarily) Suburban Towns decided it was to their benefit to "grow," and allowed new developments -- which have separate sanitary waste and storm water lines -- to tie their sanitary waste lines into the old combined sewer system. This allowed tax bases to expand while the County and municipalities avoided the cost of constructing new treatment facilities to handle the concentrated sanitary waste from the separate lines. Once "the problem" was discovered, the US EPA declared the CSO illegal and, effectively, all the old developments with combined sewers are now going to have to remove storm water from their systems -- systems that were designed to convey storm water.

The villages of Clayville, New York Mills, Yorkville, Whitesboro, New Hartford and Oriskany are the places most likely to have combined sewers, because they were settled many years ago when combined sewers were accepted practice. As long as combined sewers continue to exist, making people unhook their roof drains and sump pumps from combined sewers accomplishes little. The storm water has to go somewhere, and will simply run off the land, into the street and back into the combined system. But today's article suggests that this may be what people will be expected to do.

Ultimately, separate waste and storm water lines will be the solution to the now-illegal CSO. But the problem was not caused by the people with roof drains connected to the sewers. It was caused by the County allowing developments with separated sanitary lines to tie into a combined sewer system.

Before the County sends its sewer Gestapo to make people disconnect roof drains and sump pumps, it needs to identify where the combined sewers are located, and hold the people connected to those sewers harmless.


Anonymous said...

OH these jerks make me HOPPING mad. The town board knows FULL WELL the causes of our storm water problems!!! It's their own negligence with maintaining the creeks and streams and their own greed by allowing all those McMansions to be built above us. GRRRR!

We in the valleys never had any storm water problems until they decided to hyperactively over-develop the area.

Anonymous said...

Strike everytime we turn our backs these idiots come up with some new hairbrained excuse. Can we storm the County building with pitchforks and torches yet or what?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that they (the municipalities) know where the combined sewers are. However, to properly correct this situation, it is going to take millions upon millions of dollars and decades to do. It would entail rebuilding hundreds of miles of streets + infrastructure. I think that most responsible people have addressed storm water runoff into the sanitary system from their residences many years ago, but I'm not sure about the absentee landlords with their multi-family dwellings. This should be something that Codes Departments could look for, but we now all know that Codes enforcement is not exactly what it should be.

Anonymous said...

Actually you would be wrong assuming that the municpalites know where the sewers are. There location is currently found using plans that are 30+ years old and usually construction drawings which are inaccurate. The State DEC was very unreasonable to pass the law that they passed banning CSOs, so the county is not to blame. The systems are not taken care of near as well as they should be, and this is because it costs money that people are unwilling to pay. If they were taken care of all along we would be in a completley different situation. So dont blame the county or the engineers, blame the uneducated people who run sump pumps from their basement into a sanitary sewer line.

Strikeslip said...

Actually the DEC did not pass a law banning CSOs, but, rather, the outfall in Yorkville was reclassified (after an investigation by the US EPA which put the heat on DEC) from a CSO to a Sanitary Sewer Overflow -- which is illegal and has to be eliminated.

The reclassification occurred because most of what was connected to the Yorkville outfall was NOT from combined sewers, but from separated sanitary sewer lines.

This IS the responsibility of the county and its engineers.

But, yes, I will agree with you that people who run sump pumps into a separate sanitary sewer line are creating a problem.

Click on the "sewer" tag and look for the series of posts called "a Consent Order Primer" for a thorough explanation.