Over the course of New London’s history, the Thames River has had to endure the harsh reality of being a major water source for a growing city. Whether it be from residential homes or Electric Boat and Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Thames has witnessed its fair share of pollution and mistreatment. Despite its beleaguered history, the Thames has seen a revitalization, a rebirth that comes in the wake of an increasingly environmentally conscious world. However, sometimes mistakes are made, and creeping reminders of the past can come back to haunt the New London community.
About two weeks ago, The Day published an article that shocked the community. Over the course of 20 years, the Coast Guard Academy, a fervent advocate for conservation and green initiatives, has been unknowingly dumping sewage into the Thames at a rate of roughly 130 gallons a day. After the discovery was made, the leak, which came from the institution’s athletic facility locker rooms, was immediately shut off.
“Certainly you don’t ever want to see contaminants and raw sewage get into a river, it’s technically illegal to discharge that into a body of water in Connecticut” Said Dennis Shain, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, or DEEP. “But, the Coast Guard is a great partner in helping with waste management and always has been, so surely they weren’t aware of this occurrence.” The DEEP was notified about the sewage leak immediately after its discovery, but unfortunately was not able to intervene as the investigation fell outside of the organization’s jurisdiction. This instead fell into the hands of New London’s Ledge Light Health District (LLHD). The LLHD is a special branch of local government that presides over health issues in East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, New London, Old Lyme and Waterford. So, given their extensive local reach, the LLHD took this matter quite seriously.
I spoke to Ryan McCammon, LLHD’s supervisor of environmental health, for some more detail.
“Our first notification was on the 17th, when we first heard about it from The Day. There was an alleged discharge and we coordinated with the Coast Guard Academy. By this point though, we learned that the issue with the leak was identified back in March, and the CGA had blocked the sewage leak and taken measures such as shutting off the water and even taking the handles off faucets in the locker rooms.”
McCammon then informed me that this issue supposedly began in 1997, when the CGA was renovating their locker rooms. A contractor who was fixing some utility lines accidentally hooked up the main sewage line into the storm water drain. As a result, the discharge has been slowly leaking unto 130 gallons a day for nearly 20 years, which adds up to just under 1 million gallons.
However, despite the staggering effect of this number, McCammon informed me that for such a large river, there wasn’t much to worry about. “It’s a small amount of liquid effluent for the river itself, it looks like a lot but on a daily basis it is fairly minimal. The flow of the river will help with flushing that out.”
Due to the massive flow that occurs in the daily ebbing tides, the Thames has a very handy self-regulating ability that helps it clear itself of pollutants. To that effect, the sewage that was mostly being dumped to the river wasn’t as harsh as we know it. Instead, it was mostly “grey water,” which is the water found in shower drains and from faucets, not the more disgusting “black water,” which originates from the toilet.
Despite the embarrassment for the CGA, McCammon says that this in fact is a good thing. “My guess is that we might find more of it as we look at more facilities that might not have been required to assess their stormwater, and from this we can fix more problems,” he said.
Starting in July, the DEEP is doing a major assessment of waterside facilities to make sure that their stormwater and sewage lines are properly running. This shocking discovery is the first step of many toward reclaiming the Thames and maintaining that it stays clean and pollutant free for the foreseeable future.