Berlin Suspects Sewage Disposal Double Standard

BERLIN – Fears that Berlin is being held to a more strict sewage disposal standard than other local plants are unfounded, according to Worcester County.

Berlin’s elected officials expressed concern this week that spray irrigation effluent disposal has been mandated for Berlin’s wastewater treatment plant expansion, but not for the new Mystic Harbor and Snow Hill wastewater treatment plant projects now in the works, which, they said, is a double standard.

Berlin Councilwoman Lisa Hall brought the disparity up during Monday night’s Mayor and Council meeting.

“It’s kind of ironic. Berlin was committed to doing spray irrigation years before anybody was talking about it,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

Berlin was the first jurisdiction in Worcester County to use spray irrigation to dispose of treated sewage.

“There is no double standard,” said Worcester County Commission President Louise Gulyas. “Everyone does spray irrigation from here on out.”

Discussions of the Mystic Harbor wastewater plant replacement have included the intention to go to spray irrigation, but county staff has been quick to point out that purchasing spray irrigation land in that area would be costly and suitable land would be difficult to find.

According to Gulyas, the attempt has not been abandoned. “We’re trying to find land to spray on,” she said.

Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell assured Berlin there is no double standard.

“They still have to go for spray for any new capacity,” said Mitchell. “Berlin is not being held to a higher standard than anyone else.”

Gulyas said there is no flexibility in the spray irrigation requirement. Even if it is difficult to find affordable spray sites, the mandate stands.

“Mystic Harbor is still going to get land application,” said Mitchell. “Some burden is going to be shouldered by spray, no doubt about it.”

Increased wastewater capacity in Snow Hill must also be disposed of through land application, Mitchell confirmed.

Berlin was the first county wastewater system to be given a mandate to spray, under the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan.

The County Commissioners imposed the spray irrigation requirement on Berlin’s wastewater treatment plant expansion in December 2007. Berlin, under the county requirement, must switch new capacity over to spray irrigation by 2012.   

In February, Berlin announced the possibility of securing new spray irrigation land, 200 acres near Newark. The Five Mile Branch Rd. site is currently undergoing testing for effluent disposal suitability.

The town has the right of first refusal on the property after putting down $75,000. Testing will cost about $230,000 and take about a year.

The state is expected to relax standards for spray or drip effluent disposal, allowing re-use of the treated water in more areas, which will also permit more water to be re-used.

“The plants are getting updated and the quality of effluent is getting higher and higher,” said Mitchell. “You’re not going to have dirty water anymore.”

While purple pipes, which would funnel treated wastewater through residential areas for use in lawns and gardens, will not yet be allowed, new land application rules should permit re-use of treated effluent on golf course roughs, forested areas and open space, either through spray or drip, according to Mitchell.

“You just can’t do your yard yet, [but] the state’s looking at making it more readily available to use,” said Mitchell.