PVSC plant takes hit; impacts us


Photo courtesy Hackensack Riverkeeper
Bill Sheehan on patrol along the Hackensack River.


The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is appealing to residents in Kearny, Harrison, East Newark, Belleville, Bloomfield, Nutley, Lyndhurst and North Arlington – and beyond – to heed Gov. Chris Christie’s executive order for mandatory water restrictions in the wake of storm damage to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission treatment plant in Newark.

The PVSC, which serves 1.4 million customers in Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Union counties, is trying to regain control of its secondary treatment facility that was dealt a blow by flooding and outages that has limited capacity to treat the 240 million gallons a day of wastewater that typically travels through the system.

Currently, the wastewater flowing through the plant receives only basic primary treatment and disinfection through chlorination and a sediment settling process and the partly treated effluent is being discharged in New York Harbor.

DEP, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working with the PVSC to repair the damage.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin urged residents in the impacted region to be diligent in conserving water “to help us reduce the flow of effluents into the harbor and limit environmental impacts until we get this plant fully operational.”

Aside from concentrating on damage control, Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan says government should be doing more to protect against future disasters from major storms like Sandy.

“It’s unfortunate that it took a storm of this magnitude to get people talking about steps to protect life and property,” Sheehan said. “People tend to become complacent in the times between these type of monstrous storms.”

But people living in the meadows district aren’t likely to forget Sandy anytime soon, with residents in homes near Kearny’s Gunnel Oval off Schuyler Avenue – or those living on Mill Ridge Road and Meadow Lane in Secaucus – “where people had water running through their living rooms,” Sheehan said.

“We’re living on borrowed time here,” Sheehan said. In the meadowlands, he continued, “a lot of stuff gets built and from the moment they get built, they’re at risk” because there’s nothing to stop the meadows estuaries – during high tides and storm surges – from flooding those developed sections.

And with a wounded PVSC plant discharging only partly-treated raw sewage into public waterways — and backing up local sewers into homes — residents need to be mindful about exposing themselves to potential bacteria and other toxins from those wastewaters, Sheehan said.

With such a high volume of wastes being treated by the PVSC plant – “that’s a lot of poop, after all” – Sheehan said steps should be taken to upgrade the plant’s treatment capability.

For the future, Sheehan said that municipal and county governments must “stop mixing” sanitary and storm sewer lines and they need to rethink their approach to meadows area development or at the very least focus on strategies for containing the flow of excess waters, “even if it’s primitive technology like building walls.”

And, if all else fails, then they should tap the state’s “Blue Acres” funding to buy up homes in flood prone areas such as those along the Passaic River shoreline, Sheehan said.

In the meantime, the governor has prohibited all “nonessential indoor water use,” along with outdoor watering of grass and lawns (except for newly sodded or seeded areas) and paved surfaces; using water for ornamental purpose such as fountains, fake waterfalls and reflecting pools; personal car and truck washing; and serving water in eateries unless requested by patrons.

Municipal street sweeping is permitted only with non-potable water and only minimally. Commercial car and truck washing is allowed but with reduced rinse cycles and the use of recycled water for prerinsing of vehicles. And only commercial enterprises can do power washing of buildings.

– Ron Leir

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