2017-11-09 / News

Saco completes latest sewer overflow project

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – The Water Resource Recovery Department is almost finished complying with federal water quality regulations that were implemented more than 20 years ago.

This summer department members, along with public works staff and Shaw Brothers Construction workers, removed the Bear Brook Combined Sewer Overflow located off Cumberland Avenue. The demolition of two small buildings, plugging off old lines and filling the existing structure was completed in less than a month. Crews from York County Soil & Water Conservation District planted vegetation on Thursday, Oct. 26 to help prevent erosion along the brook.

Combined sewer overflow are points at which combinations of sanitary wastewater and storm water discharge into bodies of water that can vary in size from an ocean to rivers, streams or creeks. The Bear Brook station was the largest in the city and after heavy rainfall or snowmelt would discharge untreated wastewater into Bear Brook, which fed into the Goosefare Brook watershed. Saco originally had nine combined sewer overflows and three remain, only one of which is currently active.

“It’s required by the federal government,” said Howard Carter, director of the Water Resource Recovery Department. “They want zero combined sewer overflows. It’s not just Saco and Maine. Most combined sewer overflows are on the east coast or in older cities like Chicago. If you get out west, newer cities don’t have those. Scarborough never had any. Their sewer went in long after.”

The Bear Brook facility was completed about four years ahead of schedule because of pollution concerns in the Goosefare Brook watershed. A retaining wall had been compromised at the station, so instead of repairing it Carter decided it would be best to close it early. There was also an open containing tank that Water Resource Recovery Department staff had to be careful mowing around which has since been filled in.

The city of Saco made an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove every combined sewer overflow that initially ended in 2016. The latest update has the final combined sewer overflow being closed by 2021. The federal government was concerned about the fishing industry as well as people being unable to swim in rivers across the country. Since combined overflow removal began in 1989, discharge was reduced from 6.2 billion gallons to 715 million gallons in Saco.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped establish much of the current regulation around the flow of sewage in surrounding bodies of water. The act was sponsored in part by former Secretary of State and Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie of Rumford.

“Muskie was sick of seeing the Androscoggin green one day and blue the next,” Carter said. “Around that time Maine had two or three of the top 10 polluted rivers in the country. Now we have some of the cleanest, but it hasn’t come cheap.”

Saco has spent about $15 million so far separating wastewater from storm water runoff, with little help from federal or state agencies. The Main Street combined sewer overflow is the next scheduled to be removed, after the sewer liner project is completed in December. The two after that are on Beach Street and Industrial Park Road.

Joe Laverriere, city engineer for Saco, has helped in separation projects in Saco as well. He said the city has removed almost 90 acres from the combined sewer system. Now when it rains, the runoff flows to the river instead of to the treatment plant.

“The estimation was on an annual basis the city discharged 170,000,000 gallons,” he said. “That was at the end of the 1980s when the combined sewer overflow went predominantly into the Saco River. Now we’re down to about less than 1,000,000, which I’d say is a considerable reduction.”

Contact staff writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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