City to appeal DEM penalty for sewer breaks, takes steps to assess system

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Following the Department of Environmental Management issuance of a Notice of Violation (NOV) last week to the Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) for environmental violations arising from the 2018 collapse of sewer pipes in the city’s wastewater collection system, the office of Mayor Joseph Solomon detailed steps taken by the administration immediately following the incident and to assess the condition of the sewer infrastructure.

Also, the administration reported that the WSA is appealing the notice of violation that carries a $27,500 penalty.

In August 2018 WSA notified DEM that wastewater was overflowing from the collection system on Cedar Swamp Road due to a collapsed section of sewer pipe in the Oakland Beach Interceptor. Although WSA set up pumps to bypass the collapsed section of the pipe, 300,000 gallons of wastewater were discharged to Cedar Swamp and Buckeye Brook. In response to the overflow, DEM implemented a shellfish closure in upper Narragansett Bay and DEM and the Department of Health issued an advisory to the public to refrain from contact recreation, fishing, and boating in Buckeye Brook, Old Mill Creek, and Mill Cove Beach.

In addition to causing the shellfish closure and contact recreation advisory, the overflow further degraded the water quality of Buckeye Brook, Old Mill Creek and Upper Narragansett Bay according to DEM. 

In November 2018, the sewer authority notified DEM that wastewater was overflowing from the collection system on Sandy Lane due to a partially collapsed section of the Sandy Lane sewer pipe. Although WSA set up pumps to bypass the partially collapsed section of the pipe, 26,000 gallons of wastewater were discharged to Little Pond. Little Pond is a Class B waterbody and designated for fish and wildlife habitat, primary and secondary recreational activities, with good aesthetic value. 

“While DEM’s enforcement action targets the city for these two sewer line collapses, which had significant environmental impacts, we need to be clear that every community that has sewer infrastructure must be vigilant in how they operate, maintain, fund, and staff their wastewater collections and treatment systems,” said DEM Deputy Director Terrence Gray in a statement. “Wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure often is some of the most expensive and complex infrastructure that a community may own, and it’s mostly out of sight.”

DEM’s enforcement action orders WSA to submit a comprehensive program and schedule for the inspection and maintenance of all components of the sanitary sewerage collection system to DEM within 60 days of receipt of the NOV. The schedule shall prioritize the identification and inspection of components of the system that will most likely need repair and are at the greatest risk of failure, and must include aggressive deadlines for the repair/replacement of any sewer lines found to need repair or replacement; assurances of funding and other needed components and resources; and adequate staffing to meet the needs of WSA’s Capacity, Management, Operations, and Maintenance program.

“As part of Mayor Solomon’s ambitious approach to the City’s entire infrastructure management and improvement, the WSA also contracted with National Water Main to perform a video condition assessment of all of Warwick’s older interceptors. This entailed the review of approximately 76,000 linear feet of pipe throughout the City to perform a condition assessment and rate pipe sections and manholes based on criticality and consequence of failure,” reads to release issued by the mayor’s office. It goes on to report with the assistance of the city administration, WSA is also working to secure financing to rehabilitate targeted interceptors identified by the assessment.

Should a penalty be upheld, funds collected would be deposited into DEM’s Water and Air Protection Program restricted-receipt account, which is used to administer DEM programs.

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