The state is giving local officials six months to come up with a plan to keep their sewer system’s suspended solids from flowing into the Mohawk River.
The Department of Environmental Conservation will waive $15,000 of a $20,000 fine levied against the Fonda-based sewer plant that serves the towns of Glen and Mohawk and villages of Fonda and Fultonville, according to a consent order dated June 15.
Fultonville Mayor Robert Headwell said Tuesday the water entering the river is now “almost perfect,” and he said several issues identified in the order have been resolved.
Inspectors found problems with the amount of suspended solids making it through the wastewater treatment plant and cited the municipal board for a sewage overflow and backup into a home in Fultonville in March.
Allowing untreated sewage discharge to flow onto the street is one of five violations acknowledged in the consent order. Other violations include failing to properly operate the system, failure to notify the DEC about new industrial effluent, failure to maintain intermunicipal agreements, discharge permit violations and untreated discharge and failure to report it.
According to the consent order, the sewer system failed to meet guidelines for effluent on several occasions between December 2008 and March 2011, including failure to adequately remove suspended solids and failure to prevent too many suspended solids from flowing into the river.
Suspended solids are defined as anything that makes it through the sewer system and floats or remains suspended in the water. They include silt, plankton and industrial wastes, which can affect aquatic wildlife in the Mohawk River, according to information provided by DEC Region 4 spokesman Rick Georgeson.
Suspended solids absorb light, making the water warmer and less able to absorb oxygen, which fish and other life forms need to live. They also reduce the amount of light available to plants in the water, which in turn reduces the amount of oxygen produced. Suspended solids also can clog the gills of fish, reduce their rate of growth, make them less resistant to disease and hinder the development of eggs, the DEC said.
Officials didn’t report the discharge of untreated sewage from a manhole and a sewage backup at a residence on Erie Street that took place on March 18.
Violations related to operating the wastewater treatment plant included inadequate pre-treatment to remove rags from the system, removing clarifier skimmers during the winter and having “significant visible solids in discharge from clarifier,” according to the consent order.
The DEC also criticizes the lack of municipal agreements among the two villages and two towns, which makes it difficult for officials to know exactly who is sending sewage into the system and what they’re flushing down the drains.
Inspectors were at the plant in March 2010 and noticed a reddish-brown wastewater coming into the plant that officials couldn’t identify.
There are no agreements or other legal means by which the sewer district’s board can demand a list from those using the system. Georgeson said such agreements would give the sewer district the means to restrict what is sent into the system or at the very least get a list of all users and what they’re sending into the system.
“This allows enforcement capabilities,” Georgeson said.
The DEC could levy a fine of $37,500 each day for violations, but issued a $20,000 total fine instead, accepting a payment of $5,000 and suspending $15,000 of the fine, as long as the system follows several steps to fix issues. These include an evaluation of effluent violations and what caused them, studying the impact of industrial inflow to the system, checking the effectiveness of treatment systems, including making sure rages are collected at the entrance, and outlining actions to “gain control of industrial users discharging to the treatment plant.”
The DEC wants an engineering report studying the issues and, within 90 days, a summary of flows and users in the system.
Perrone Leather moved into the town of Glen and started using the system, leading to some of the violations, officials said. Headwell said the company is setting up pre-treatment to avoid overworking the sewer treatment plant.
“We just had a couple of those glitches, and we haven’t had any problems at the sewer plant since. It was just getting everything back in line,” Headwell said.
Excessive rainfall also made issues worse during the spring, he said, which “takes the sewer plant and turns it upside down.”
“It’s just trying to get a lot of things in order, vetting the municipal agreements, making sure all the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted,” Headwell said.