Letter from The Old Lyme Shellfish Commission

It has come to the attention of this Commission that sanitary wastewater treatment in plants sanctioned by the State DEEP are discharging less than potable fresh water into our rivers flowing eventually to salty Long Island Sound. The view of the DEEP seems to be based on their opinion that dilution is the solution to pollution. The Connecticut River is closed to recreational shell fishing because they neglect to tell us, that the treatment plants they supervise are the source of much of this pollution.

With the name they give themselves, it seems to be odd that they, of all people, should control the very sewage treatment plants that pollute these waters.

“Seems to be” in the previous paragraph is there because it is difficult to document the culprit. This Commission believes that the DEEP (formerly the DEP) is the fox in the henhouse. They spend public money, but the results of their effort, is far from transparent.

          Several years ago, one example came to our attention when an official of the DEP told Old Lyme representatives that a proposed sewage treatment plant in Old Saybrook would discharge treated water into the Connecticut River midway between the Amtrak and the Baldwin Bridges. He told us not to worry because “The discharge pipe would be fitted with a diffuser.” When asked what a “diffuser” was, he said, “So it doesn’t all come up in one place.”

 For another example, the screens on the discharge at a plant near Middletown clogged up, and the plant operators opened the discharge directly to the River, and raw human waste arrived by tidal flow at Point O’Woods in Old Lyme a few days later. In this instance, officials in Hartford had the unmitigated gall to say that this human waste originated in Point O’Woods where there are, and were then, no open sewers dumping raw sewage into nearby waters. None.

One reason why this has been going on is that most people don’t relish talking about human waste. Another reason is sewage discharges are often located in obscure places like the bottoms of rivers. We believe the data is all there but “not available

There is no denying that in heavily industrialized or densely populated urban areas, conventional septic tank – leach fields are not adequate for the load, but even here the DEEP is abusing both the environment and home owners on lots which are too small for conventional septic tank – leach field treatment. This is because of still another factor. The DEEP in this state is in a turf war with the Connecticut State Health Department. Here, the DEEP holds a monopoly on about all wastewater treatment, except for the old fashioned passive septic tank – leach field, presently the only wastewater treatment available to sanitarians who work under the guidance and rules of the State Health Department. The result of this situation is that the local Health Directors and local Sanitarians cannot avail themselves of modern, proven systems now in use in Rhode Island and in Massachusetts to digest all septic waste on a small house lot.

 So to win this turf war, the Connecticut DEEP resorts to another ploy. They don’t test the soil. They simply measure lot size and lump neighborhoods as those having houses too close together. By a formula that they don’t make public, they declare a lumped discharge of 5000 gallons per day from several sources, and they claim jurisdiction, whereas the State Health Department is limited to control only the individual smaller discharges. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, such small individual discharges would get individual treatment with modern technology, thus avoiding the loss of fresh water to the ocean and the costs and hazards of sewage treatment plants and leaky sewers.

 So who loses when we have unnecessary sewers? First, the environment loses ground water. We exhaust the aquifer and cause dug wells to dry up. Taxpayers lose as we pay to move wastewater that could easily go back through leach fields into groundwater at no cost to the taxpayers. Instead, they dump partially treated water into the ocean.

What must be done to correct this situation? We must get the fox out of the henhouse. The DEEP should not be permitted to monitor itself. Data concerning sewage treatment plant discharges for both quantity and quality should be readily available for anyone to scrutinize. The use of alternative technology for sewage treatment should be made readily available to any registered sanitarian or health director, without any interference by the DEEP.

When sanitary waste water is sewerized and discharged into a river we are throwing away a valuable resource that could, and should be, recycled efficiently to improve our environment and save money too. Modern technology permits this, but the DEEP prohibits alternative technology for single home installations and hides the data which would indict them.


Some words in a sentence modify nearby words. These include adverbs and adjectives. Other words identify something. These are nouns. Some nouns are universal and others are used infrequently or only in small localities or in highly specialized fields. One example of localized use is a very common fish Brevoortia tyrannus. In the English language this fish is known in various localities by at least thirty-one names, including for instance: menhaden, pogy, wife, bonyfish, bunker, bugfish, greentail and cheboy. Thirty-one English names in use for just one fish. Notice that these examples don’t seem to relate to each other and some don’t even hint that they name a fish.

About twenty years ago I came upon a book titled The Sawba and his Secretary. It was a story set in the border region between Burma (now it calls itself Myanmar) and China. This story is about the experiences of a petty potentate (Sawba) who ruled there. It attracted me largely because my son Neel was working in Southeast Asia as a missionary. I gave the book to him. Now fast forward from about 1990 to 2015. Recently, he gave me another book about that same part of the world. It is titled The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott and on page 114 there is a reference to a Shan petty potentate who was called a Saohpa. That rang a bell in my mind. Two words Sawba and Saohpa both from the same area in Indo-China.

Armed with a miracle of modern electronics, I pressed two buttons on my cell phone and my son promptly explained how the sounds of words are expressed and spelled when they are translated. I then began to realize the tremendous burden borne by missionaries and Bible translators who strive to make sense of words originally writ in Aramaic and Greek in order to be understandable when printed in the language of a Burmese Shan. I barely manage with thirty-one English names for one, just one, fish.

Even more so, I marvel at how one translates a faith-based intangible concept that many of us have been exposed to all of our lives and still don’t fully understand.