Opinion/Editorial (589 Words)
Hampton Sewer Moratorium Based on Solids Discharges
Thomas Burack, NHDES Commissioner
A recent editorial on Seacoastonline.com (September 17, 2010) calling into question the N.H. Department of Environmental Services decision to place a moratorium on hookups to Hampton's Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) was grounded in the false premise that the moratorium was imposed because the plant is approaching 80 percent of its sewage flow capacity. The Hampton sewer moratorium is not based on hydraulic capacity of the plant, which is at 75-80 percent of capacity. For Hampton, the basis for the moratorium is the "solids" loading to the WWTF. Not to be too crass, but "solids" are nothing more or less than concentrated sewage sludge. This past summer, Hampton exceeded the solids handling capacity of the WWTF and started releasing those solids into a tributary of Tide Mill Creek.
With the population influx of the summer beach season , the amount of solids coming into the Hampton WWTF was greater than the solids handling equipment within the WWTF could handle. Over subsequent months, the solids continued to build up within the WWTF until they finally started overwhelming the capacity of the plant to remove the solids from the wastewater stream. This led to a series of federal water quality violations in mid-August that may result in enforcement action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In response, on August 26th, DES informed the Town of Hampton that it would not approve any new sewer connections in the town until the WWTF was analyzed by engineers and improvements were made. The moratorium is intended to prevent Hampton from being in violation of the Town's federal wastewater discharge permit next summer, and ensure that water quality problems, including siltation from excessive solids and oxygen deficiencies, which both directly affect fish habitat, do not occur in the unnamed tributary to Tide Mill Creek that receives the Hampton WWTF discharge.
During a tour of the WWTF on September 3, DES officials observed the plant's inability to process these sewage solids. Needless to say, it was not a pretty sight (or smell). After the plant tour and a meeting with Hampton Town officials to discuss the situation, DES was assured that the Town is on track to fully evaluate this problem and that it will take the appropriate steps to rehabilitate the plant and ensure full compliance with its federal wastewater discharge permit. When these measures have occurred, or when a schedule for work has been agreed upon, the moratorium will be lifted to enable additional sewer connections. It is hard to predict how long this will take, but it will be at least several months before the engineering can be completed.
It is also important to correct two other misconceptions in the Seacoastonline.com editorial. First, the Hampton Beach bathhouse project sewer connection permit was approved because it will not add any additional flow to Hampton's WWTF, due to the use of modern water-saving devices. Second, none of the town's recent wastewater infrastructure expenditures addressed the problem at hand, namely the solids handling deficiencies at the WWTF. They addressed infiltration/inflow problems, which improved the plant's hydraulic capacity.
Adding new sewer hookups for residential and business development is important to the Town of Hampton and the State. However, when hookups would adversely affect the environment or the public's health, everyone is harmed. DES will continue to work closely with the town to achieve something I'm sure we all want to see — the proper treatment of sewage solids by the Hampton WWTF in order to protect the environment and to enable new sewer hookups in the Town of Hampton.
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