Photo of Senator Cohen.

State Senator

Christine Cohen

Representing Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison & North Branford

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Sen. Cohen Leads Senate Passage of Updated 'Sewage Spill Right-to-Know' Law


HARTFORD - State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford), who is Senate Chair of the legislature's Environment Committee, today led unanimous and bipartisan passage in the state Senate of a new bill that requires the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to implement a "real time" public notification system that allows individuals to be notified of sewage spills, or of permitted sewage bypasses, within two hours of those incidents being reported to DEEP.

The bill also requires DEEP, by February 1, 2022, to begin annually publishing and making publicly available on its website summary information about sewage spills in Connecticut.

Senate Bill 927, "AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE SEWAGE SPILL RIGHT-TO-KNOW STATUTE," now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration. The bill passed the Environment Committee on a unanimous and bipartisan vote on March 12.

"I vividly remember the angst and the anger last summer when there was a major sewage spill in New Haven that affected a large portion of the Connecticut shoreline, including many towns in my district. Word got out, but it did not go far enough or fast enough. This bill is an attempt to remedy that and improve public communication going forward," Sen. Cohen said. "Connecticut residents have a right to information in a timely manner when it comes to our safety and impacts to our environment. We should be able to make a determination, regardless of the release size, as to whether we will swim or take part in other recreational activities that may be impacted."

In 2012, the Connecticut General Assembly passed the "Sewage Right to Know Law" in order to post online more timely information for the public regarding discharges into state waters and sewage spills. More than 80 utilities in Connecticut post live on the DEEP website, available at:

https://ctdeep.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=a386eea9cc334192a5fd25134d5afdda

But recent sewage spills in Connecticut have surprised town leaders and residents with the scope and impact of the spill.

Last July, after a sewer main pipe broke, more than two million gallons of raw sewage leaked into the Mill River and Long Island Sound, forcing officials to close beaches and shell fishing areas in Branford, East Haven, Madison, West Haven and New Haven.

In January 2018, 6,000 gallons of hydraulic oil spilled into the Naugatuck River, prompting state officials to warn against fishing and eating fish in the river from Waterbury to the Long island Sound.

Environmental advocates say sewage spills not only affect people who may be boating, fishing or swimming in a river or the ocean, but also threaten state industries like oyster farmers, who plant thousands of cured shells in estuaries, where rivers meet the sea.

Under existing state law, sewage treatment plants or collection system operators must report to DEEP within two hours of learning of a sewage spill. This legislation requires the inclusion of permitted sewage bypasses. The electronic report must include a variety of information, including:

  • The incident date, time, and location
  • The estimated or actual time that the discharge ended, if known
  • The geographic area impacted by the discharge
  • The estimated discharge volume or rate and, once known, the final discharge volume
  • The discharge treatment level
  • Steps taken to contain the discharge, once known
  • Any reasonable concerns about the environment or public health, safety, or welfare
  • Any public safety precautions that should be taken.

Current law also requires a sewage plant or system operator to notify the chief elected official of the municipality where the spill occurred, with notice given within two hours of learning of a spill that exceeds -- or is anticipated to exceed -- 5,000 gallons.

Senate Bill 927 will instead require a release or permitted bypass of any size to be noticed to a town’s chief elected official and the local public health official. If said spill has potential to impact public health, safety or the environment, the municipal leaders must notify the public within two hours of receiving the information.

Under existing state law, failing to report a sewage spill is already a crime punishable with a fine up to $25,000 per day.