The MDC chartered towns are: Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor.
The MDC's charter provides for sewer services to all its member towns. The District also provides limited sewer services to Manchester, Glastonbury and South Windsor. The District is responsible for integrated sewer systems within all member towns, including the core combined sewer systems that were constructed from about 1850 to the early 1900’s.
The MDC has a 150 year old combined sewer system in Hartford with a 100 year old sanitary sewer system located in the surrounding communities. These systems surcharge with rainwater during storm events, and discharge untreated wastewater through overflows. More than 1 billion gallons of untreated wastewater overflow to area streams and waterways annually. These discharges impact the Connecticut River water quality over a 30 mile distance up to 50 times per year—every time it rains more than 0.25 inches. Other area waters that have their water quality affected include: Wethersfield Cove, North Branch Park River, Trout Brook, Goff Brook, among others. In addition, area basements and streets experience flooding by raw sewage. These public health and safety issues must be abated.
The MDC has been cited by USEPA and USDOJ for overflows from the sewer systems in West Hartford, Newington, Wethersfield, Rocky Hill and Windsor. The MDC was fined $850,000 and signed a Consent Decree to cease all overflows within 12 years. The MDC is also negotiating a Consent Order with the CTDEP to control the Combined Sewer Overflows located in the Hartford sewer system within 15 years—by the year 2021.
The MDC has been addressing combined sewer overflows and other system deficiencies since the early 1960s, when the construction of new combined sewers was no longer allowed. In the 1970’s, the MDC implemented a program to construct separate sewers in critical sewer backup areas. In the 1980’s, the District added capacity to its sewer system. In the 1990’s, the District implemented the $80 million Connecticut River Cleanup Program, which was funded by the first District-wide sewer system referendum. The program funded additional sewer separation projects and other innovative projects that have eliminated approximately 80 combined sewer overflow points.
Combined Sewers use one pipe for both wastewater and storm water, and are especially vulnerable to overfilling with storm water. When they overflow, they either discharge raw sewage into waterways, or back up into basements and yards. It is no longer legal to construct Combined Sewers. The more modern Sanitary Sewers use two separate pipes – one for wastewater and one for storm water. Because of their age, Sanitary Sewer pipes in the area have developed cracks and breaks which allow infiltration of rainwater. When they overfill, they also discharge untreated sewage into our waterways.
The cost for the entire project is $2.1 billion, a total of $1.6 million has already been approved and committed for the first two Phases. In 2006, $800 million was approved through referendum and another $800 million was approved in 2012.
The Clean Water Project implements essential sewer system improvements to eliminate untreated sewage discharges to local waterways. These projects will occur throughout the MDC member towns. The distribution of these investments will vary dependent upon the age, condition and capacity of each respective community’s sewers. Nonetheless, significant construction will occur in Hartford to bolster the system’s ability to convey flows from the outlying towns to the District's primary wastewater treatment plant. The improvements are planned to handle increased sewage flows from area development, which is expected to occur over the next 50 years.
The Connecticut River was once called “the best landscaped sewer,” meaning that for all its outward beauty, it was still used for dumping sewage and other waste. Today, due to improvements made after passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and stronger state water quality standards, the river’s water quality has improved. For response to the 1972 legislation, the MDC instituted a biological sewage treatment process to clean up the wastewater, and has increased the total treatment plant capacity for storm sewage flows. Nonetheless, while the river’s water quality has improved, combined sewer overflows persist, affecting more than 30 miles of the Connecticut River and other inland waters during, and after, most storm events.
The Connecticut River is a key regional and national resource. In 1998, it was designated an American Heritage River, one of only 14 in the country to receive this recognition for its historical, environmental and economic importance. The river has great potential as a recreational resource for swimming, fishing, boating and other uses that enhance the quality of life for all in the region and promotes economic development. Moreover, the river has a direct impact on the water quality of Long Island Sound, which is the basis for a major Federal initiative—The Long Island Sound Program. The MDC is operating under Federal and State mandates to improve wastewater treatment to address impacts to the Sound’s fish habitat.
The MDC is under consent orders with the Connecticut DEP and the Federal EPA to address the issues of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows. These consent orders establish deadlines that must be met. In addition, the MDC expenditures are constantly reviewed by the DEP which approves budgets as a condition of its funding (grants and loans through the Clean Water Fund) authorizations.