History & Additional Information
Under the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972, all discharges to the waters of the State of Connecticut fall under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Permitting authority for discharging septic systems less than 5,000 gallons per day is delegated to the Connecticut Department of Public Health and they, in turn, assign permitting responsibility for discharges less than 2,000 gallons per day to local health departments. Most properties in Madison fall into this latter category, with only a few properties falling into each of the first two.
Malcolm Pirnie Report & Formation of the Authority
In 1983, a major engineering study, the Malcolm Pirnie Report, recommended several shoreline towns install sewers in selected areas. Due to the expense involved and the problem siting a sewage treatment plant would entail, the Town initiated a sewer avoidance program, working under the assumption that if the Town instituted proper management oversight for traditional septic systems it could demonstrate that sewers and a sewage treatment plant would not be necessary. To that end, the Town established the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) in 1979. The WPCA is responsible by State Statute and Town Ordinance to oversee, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of all wastewater discharges in Madison with the exception of DEP regulated sites. In that role it works closely with the Madison Health Department.
For many years the WPCA provided oversight for permit compliance at the Town's septage lagoons located at the Bulky Waste Site on Ridge Road. The lagoons were not re-permitted by the DEP following ten years of operation and are no longer used. Septage from septic tank cleaning is now trucked to treatment plants in other municipalities. Additionally, an extensive water-testing program was initiated to determine the severity of septic related pollution in Madison's streams. That program has compiled an extensive database (over 20 years) of surface water quality and was discontinued only recently.
The WPCA has five appointed members, elects its own chair and meets monthly. Meetings times are posted and are open to the public. Meeting minutes are kept by the Director of Health.
Town Septic & Treatment Systems
Most residential septic systems serve individual houses, however in some cases large systems serve multiple living units and are designated community systems. There are currently four such properties in Madison:
- Oxford Fells
- Legend Hill
- Buck Hill
- The Mews
All community systems are under the permitting authority of the DEP with operational oversight by the WPCA. As part of that oversight the WPCA has entered into financial agreements with the property owner associations to ensure that funds are available to adequately maintain the systems and to replace components as needed. The WPCA holds funds contributed by the associations to be used for operation and repair of the systems in the event an association fails to maintain its system. The WPCA has the authority to take over operation of a failing system if deemed necessary. Included is the authority to tax the property owners who are served by the community system to pay for operations and repairs. Each of these systems undergo periodic engineering inspections which are reviewed by the WPCA.
Most properties in Madison are served by conventional septic systems consisting of a septic tank followed by leaching fields. In recent years several properties have installed alternative treatment systems. In effect these are sewage treatment plants that serve a single property and discharge highly treated wastewater to the leaching fields. These systems all operate under permit by DEP and are required to submit regular influent and effluent testing reports as well as reports of ground water quality from monitoring wells located near the leaching fields.
These treatment systems are located at Madison House on Wildwood Avenue, Stop & Shop, The Hearth on Bradley Road, Daniel Hand High School and The Mews (noted above) and the Wharf Hotel (near completion at this writing). With the exception of Madison House the WPCA receives and reviews regular testing results from these systems; however, only the Mews is considered a community system and so is the only alternate treatment system backed by reserve funds. The Hearth, although serving a residential community is for technical reasons not considered a Community System.
It should be noted that the WPCA is not a permitting authority for large and community systems. It does not approve, disapprove or comment on the suitability of proposed systems and its role is limited to performance review and in the case of community systems, financial arrangements so that in the event systems are not maintained, funds will be available to operate and maintain the systems, avoiding direct cost to taxpayers not served by that system.
All alternative treatment system permits issued by DEP specify water quality parameters for discharge to the leaching fields and regular engineering reports include test results which indicate compliance or non-compliance with permit limits. Except for the Mews, the WPCA has no formal authority to address reports of non-compliance, however experience shows that early informal involvement by the WPCA with the operating company is beneficial to addressing compliance concerns.
Improving Future Oversight
To provide better oversight for future community and alternative treatment systems, the WPCA is currently creating a tiered response protocol to be part of future agreements. This would require operators to address non-compliance issues in specific predetermined ways, with repeat or gross non-compliance problems requiring more robust (and more expensive) response. The range of required response will be from notification for minor non-compliance to installation of additional treatment capacity as determined by engineering studies for significant and repeated non-compliance.