Quinnipiac River Watershed Association
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River Pollution & Solutions

 

River Pollution & Solutions

What are the kinds of pollution which degrade our river, and what can we do about them? They include TRASH, STORMWATER RUNOFF from urban areas, INDUSTRIAL DISCHARGES, SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT DISCHARGES, LANDFILL LEACHEATE, FERTILIZERS & PESTICIDES, AND EROSION & SEDIMENTATION.

Polluted runoff from paved surfaces contains oil and other engine fluids; polluted dust from tire, engine, and pavement wear; road sand and salt; and nutrients and bacteria in pet feces.

Runoff from roofs or other impervious surfaces may contain air pollution fallout, soot from chimneys, and is often acidic due to acid rain. Galvanized roofs and flashing release and zinc and copper, and roof vents may also release pollutants.

What can we do about stormwater runoff? We can pressure our towns to clean out catch basins and stormwater basins regularly; to preserve open space; and to apply for funding for urban storm-water retrofitting. We can also speak out at public hearings, in favor of state-of-the-art stormwater treatment technology for new commercial and industrial facilities and residential developments. We can also keep our cars in tune and free of leaks and use a pooper scooper.

All the five upper river treatment plants are at an advanced treatment level (this one is in Cheshire), although some occasionally overflow, like the one in Meriden, because they don't have enough capacity or because groundwater leaks into the system. Also sometimes illegal industrial poisons are put in sewers which knock the biological treatment systems out of operation for several weeks. This happened in Cheshire in March of 1995.

What can we do? If we are connected to a sewer, we can avoid putting toxic substances down the drain. We can report illegal dumping or discharges.

Industrial discharges, such as those from Cytec, which makes plastics and resins, are more strictly regulated than polluted runoff. Formaldehyde, Cytec's largest discharge, although carcinogenic as an air pollutant, is fortunately relatively harmless to humans, diluted in water. However, studies also indicate that formaldehyde may be toxic to aquatic insects (food for fish), well below the level permitted for discharge by Cytec.

What can we do? The public can apply pressure on government for prompt permitting, conservative discharge limits, and strict enforcement.

Another source of pollution is landfill leacheate, polluted, nutrient-rich liquid which oozes from the bases of seven landfills next to rivers in the watershed, even after they are closed. This is the Meriden landfill. Although groundwater monitoring data is regularly collected at landfills, the problem of land-fill leacheate has not been investigated in the Quinnipiac watershed.
Sludge piles from Upjohn, in North Haven, formerly a major polluter, are protected by plastic covers, and pumping controls leacheate discharge.

Occasionally there are major oil spills, like the one in North Haven in the fall of 1995. Coordinated clean-ups involve catch oil with absorbent booms that float on the river, and absorbent diapers, but oil also includes a non-floating portion, which enters the ecosystem and has various harmful effects.

Dumping is another serious pollution problem. Trash is ugly, but dumping also pollutes water. Fluids leak from drums. Toxic metals are released from appliances and auto parts, as they corrode. Household dumping in New Britain prompted building of this ugly cement wall. Tire dumps like this one on Sackett Point Rd. in North Haven are a major problem.

What can we do? We can promptly report dumping and participate in and help organize clean-ups, working with New Haven's River Keeper, the QRWA, scout troops and community groups. The QRWA is coordinating a May 1998 watershed-wide clean-up.

Groundwater contamination is now being addressed by sophisticated groundwater remediation programs like this one at TRI in Plainville. New DEP regulations prevent pollution from publics works storage areas by requiring covers on salt piles, for example.

Another serious pollution problem is soil erosion from construction sites. Sediment buries aquatic habitat, clogs fish gills, and carries excess nutrients into streams.

What can we do? We can encourage use of erosion prevention measures, like well-designed sedimentation basins, and properly installed silt fences, which reduce sedimentation. We can promptly report sedimentation problems to town officials and/or the QRWA. The QRWA is seeking more volunteers to monitor turbidity in streams. We can advocate for buffers and leave buffers along watercourses on our own properties. Leaving natural vegetated buffers along a stream is one of the best ways to filter out sediment.

Naturally vegetated "buffers" or "greenway corridors" also help prevent excess fertilizer and sediment from reaching streams, lakes along the river, and eventually LI Sound, where they cause excess growth of algae. When algae dies, sinks, and rots, this creates low dissolved oxygen conditions and turbidity. This is a severe problem known as hypoxia in Long Island Sound. Fish and other aquatic life need sufficient oxygen to be healthy, and plant life in deep waters need light for photosynthesis.
Pesticides and herbicides can also harm aquatic life, a problem which would be much reduced if homeowners tolerated ground covers like clover in their yards.

What can we do? We can leave nitrogen-rich grass clippings on the lawn; we can test soils to avoid unnecessary fertilizer application; we can use natural pest controls like milky spore disease for Japanese beetle grubs. Also, reducing lawn areas by leaving and planting native trees and shrubs reduces pollution from fertilizers. This is especially helpful where soils are sandy, and fertilizers may pass readily through the soil in groundwater, even if one's yard is quite a distance from a stream.
Native shrubs provide habitat for thicket songbirds like yellow throat warblers.

In addition to what we can do in our own lives to prevent water and sediment pollution, our taxes help support important water quality related enforcement work by the Department of Environmental Protection and government-funded research, by scientists like those at the Yale Center for Coastal and watershed Systems. And we can support river conservation groups like the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association, which produced this slide show.

The QRWA runs educational and recreational programs, such as hands on workshops and canoe tours, which promote awareness and understanding of the river. Since our founding in 1979 we have also provided citizen input into local land use proceedings for proposed projects, which may impact wetlands and water resources.