Editorial: The flushes and the fishes

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that a 60 percent rate increase for sewer users has sparked a brushfire of negative reaction.

People don’t like paying more — especially if they don’t seem to be getting anything new or anything more for their money. And that, unfortunately, is what a sewer rate increase may seem like — paying more for the same old flush.

But while from a sewer user’s perspective a flush is just a flush, from a different point of view — say, that of a fish in Long Island Sound — the town’s ambitious sewer project promises a tangible improvement in living conditions.

Both the town’s sewer plants — District One on South Street and District Two on Route 7 — are involved in the $48 million project, which voters approved last November. The village area’s District One plant is being rebuilt while the District Two plant serving the Route 7 and Route 35 neighborhood will be shut down and demolished. A new pipeline will transport District Two’s wastewater to South Street for treatment at what will be an upgraded District One plant. The plants are both aging — South Street’s is 30 years old now — and they do run, literally, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This ambitious improvement of wastewater treatment is being undertaken by the town and its Water Pollution Control Authority after years of pressure from state and federal authorities. The goal is not just to replace aging equipment but to improve processing to meet toughened standards for wastewater, including the treatment for nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc.

The state has been putting and will continue to put similar pressure on other communities, and they too will improve the quality of their wastewater treatment.

Over the long haul, the benefits of improved wastewater treatment should include a reduction in the size and frequency that Long Island Sound experiences periodic “dead zones” — oxygen-deprived areas where fish and other marine life cannot live.

The people complaining about the higher bills aren’t the frontline beneficiaries of the sewage treatment improvements being undertaken up and down Long Island Sound — Ridgefield’s renovated plant, and also other communities’ projects.

Like many environmental initiatives, the town’s $48 million sewer improvement project will benefit not the people flushing all those toilets — and paying more for the privilege — but the marine life in Long Island Sound, the fish and other creatures trying to live in the waterbody all those toilets get flushed into.