Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Questioning the Village's Sanitary

Village responds to allegations of problems at water treatment plant

According to Dock Street resident David Radovanovic, the water treatment plant is operating at near capacity, and will be unable to accommodate projects now in the planning stage. At the January 20 meeting of the village board, trustee William Murphy and wastewater superintendent Mike Marino addressed the issue. They said that although the plant has been cited numerous times by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just one of those citations was classified as severe, and stated that the plant has the capacity to meet all planned projects at this time -- including the hotel/convention center on Partition Street and the three and half miles of new commercial hook-ups planned for Kings Highway.

At the village board meeting two weeks ago, Radovanovic produced reports from the EPA showing noncompliance at the Dock Street wastewater treatment plant for eleven of the past twelve quarters. The EPA oversees the work of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is directly responsible for monitoring the facility.

"I checked with the DEC and these were factual findings," said Murphy. "There was only one significant noncompliance issue. Eleven were not severe. There are obviously problems we have to look into, but these are not constant problems. The main cause of the problems is infiltration and inflow, which we have been dealing with for years."

Radovanovic said that while infiltration does contribute to the problem, "other factors that are being glanced over. I'm afraid that if we hook up industrial level types of waste, there must be some type of pretreatment."

Radovanovic said that some of the cases of noncompliance were due to an elevated presence of coliform in the plant's water, which he attributed to the presence of fecal matter.

Wastewater department superintendent Mike Marino, however, pointed out that while coliform can be found in feces, it is also sometimes present in drinking water, as well as other sources. Marino also said that the coliform levels were not considered by the DEC to be high enough to constitute a case of significant noncompliance.

Marino admitted that Radovanovic's argument is correct: the Dock Street wastewater treatment plant has been found to be in noncompliance during eleven of the past twelve quarters, but that only one quarter showed a significant issue. In the first quarter of 2005, the plant showed high levels of settleable solids, and was found by the DEC to be in a state of significant noncompliance. Marino attributes this to heavy precipitation levels during the early months of 2005.

As for the other factors, Marino said the violations were modest. "What you have to understand," said Marino. "Is that if any reading on any day of the quarter is one-tenth of one percent over, the plant is considered to be noncompliant. It doesn't mean that the water is not safe."

This is how the severe violation that year played out. The plant is allowed a daily maximum of .3 mg/L settleable solids. Several days of heavy rain in January 2005 caused the maximum monthly result to come in at .8 mg/L. In February of the same year, the plant experienced another higher than normal reading of .5 mg/L of settleable solids.

According to Marino, settleable solids are materials suspended in water that will settle to the bottom over a period of time, filtering them. Most settleable solids do so within about an hour, he explained.

Radovanovic also asserted that the plant is running at near capacity, although village officials claim that there is room for growth.

"They act as though the plant was designed to take all of Saugerties. I don't think they're looking past their noses, quite frankly," said Radovanovic.

The plant is allowed a maximum capacity of 1.32 million gallons of water per day to be treated before being discharged into the Hudson River. In December 2008, Saugerties received 28.7 inches of rain and snow, and the wastewater department saw 1.05 million gallons per day pass through the facility. Marino says that the yearly average is much lower, though, usually around 800,000 gallons per day.

"We have some room for growth," said Marino. "I would like more, but there is some room there."

Marino says that the storm water separation project -- which will redirect three catch basins in the southern part of the village to empty into the Esopus Creek rather than transport storm water into the village's sewer system --will solve only a small percentage of the problem. The amount of water that passes through the plant after a heavy rain is due in large part to infiltration and inflow, often referred to as I&I.

I&I refers to water that infiltrates weaknesses in the sewer system's infrastructure. Much of this infrastructure, Marino says, is more than 100 years old and is constructed of clay tile pipes, which have developed cracks over time as the ground has shifted. Rainwater often finds its way into these cracks, causing excess water, uncontaminated water to pass through the plant. Upgrading the entire sewer system would be quite expensive, according to Marino, and the village is in the process of seeking grant monies in order to accomplish this without placing the burden on the taxpayers.

"Mr. Radovanovic has a valid point," said Marino. "We do have a system that is in need of maintenance."

"We will continue to find things to try to help it," said Murphy. "Overall, to accept growth we have to continue to do these little things."

Although the village wastewater treatment plant has never received a fine or penalty of any kind from either the DEC or the EPA, Radovanovic attributed this to the workload facing these agencies rather than a sign that the village wastewater plant is conforming to expectations.

"The reality is that these guys [at the EPA and DEC] are completely overwhelmed with the amount of work that they have. The pick the worst ones to go after," said Radovanovic.

The next meeting of the village board will be held on Monday, February 2, at 7 p.m. at the Village Hall.

Full article at UlsterPublishing: http://ulsterpublishing.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=article&articleID=474703

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