An expensive fix is set for the wastewater treatment plant that has spilled sewage and sent feces-bacteria-filled water cascading into Trumansburg Creek.
The pollution, first reported by The Ithaca Journal in 2012, attracted attention from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and now, the Trumansburg Wastewater Treatment Plant is slated to receive $5.4 million in upgrades to fix the deficiencies.
Costs from the plant upgrade are estimated to increase sewage rates in the village by 69 percent, Trumansburg Mayor Marty Petrovic said. Sewage costs for the average user would increase by $237 per year — to $583 — which is an increase of 65 cents per day, he said. The plant serves 1,800 people within the village.
“We have a reasonable solution, and it’s expensive, but we don’t really have a choice,” Petrovic said. The wastewater plant upgrades were mandated by the state, and the village has to meet water quality standards, he said.
From 2008 to 2013, on average, the Trumansburg Wastewater Treatment Plant discharged treated sewage that contained 378 times the allowable amount of fecal coliform bacteria, according to water testing data from the Community Science Institute.
The CSI is an Ithaca-based not-for-profit that runs a certified water-testing lab.
Fecal coliform bacteria are indicators of feces contamination from humans or other animals. The New York state limit for fecal coliform is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water.
The plant has had overflow problems, and the facility has sent partially treated sewage flowing into Trumansburg Creek eight times since 2008.
The last spill was in March 2013 and documented by The Ithaca Journal. A clog sent a sludgy mixture of partially treated sewage bubbling over the plant’s aeration tanks and onto the shore on Trumansburg Creek. It appeared 2 to 3 inches deep at its thickest point, covering grasses and plants down to the creek’s edge.
The spilled sewage was in its first stages of treatment, where it is mixed with microbes that quicken breakdown, and the brown matter was nearly odorless with air temperatures below freezing.
Petrovic said improvements to the plant’s headworks facility and grit chamber will help stop overflows such as that one.
Heavy rain or snow melt also has overwhelmed the plant, triggering bypasses that sent untreated sewage into the creek. Contamination at the discharge pipe was up to 790 times greater than the legal limit during storm flow from January 2012 to March 2013, CSI data show.
“We don’t take stormwater into our system on purpose, but when it rains heavily, we get stormwater into it,” Petrovic said. The village is working to identify and repair spots where stormwater seeps into the sewage system, he said.
CSI’s data was the only water testing that measured fecal coliform levels from the plant after it had been discharged, and other tests showed the plant was meeting regulatory standards.
“CSI volunteers were essential in sparking action with the sewage treatment plant in Trumansburg,” CSI Director of Outreach Becky Sims said.
“It’s hard to say, but I think it’s certainly possible that the problem would have gone unnoticed for much longer if it hadn’t been for the repeated monitoring downstream and upstream of the sewage treatment plant,” she added.
CSI data show that fecal coliform from the plant’s outfall have averaged well below regulatory limits since The Ithaca Journal ran a watchdog report on the issue in March 2013.
“We didn’t realize how bad we were, in terms of impacting thatstream and eventually Cayuga Lake, so it’s nice to have someone help us find that problem,” Petrovic said.
From April 24 to Oct. 31, treated sewage water from the plant’s outfall averaged 43 colonies of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters of water, according to CSI data.
Plant Operator Jerry Smith, of Yaws Environmental, said he is chlorinating discharge water to cut down on the fecal coliform levels, and the outfall often sees single-digit values for the bacteria.
“The last one I did, I don’t think there was any (fecal coliform),” Smith said. The water test was taken on Feb. 18, he said.
CSI hasn’t tested water from the plant’s outfall since October, Sims said.
The village is required to submit final plans and a construction schedule for the wastewater treatment plant improvements by Feb. 28, 2015.
The DEC is requiring that construction start by May 28, 2015, and that the work be finished within a year.
This article was written by Andrew Casler and appeared in the Ithaca Journal on February 28, 2014.