Waste and Water

Jacqueline Nakamura, Mary Nguyen, Christopher Zappi


Among the most challenging tasks for cities are the procurement of clean water and removal of waste. Through numerous infrastructure developments and negotiations among different actors since the early nineteenth century, New Haven today continues to maintain and improve its urban water and sanitation services. Various political themes arise from analyzing certain components of the water infrastructure serving New Haven. For example, issues of sanitation and public health have brought about improvements on the city’s sewage system, from the pipeline network to the sewage treatment. Discussions between residents and officials demonstrate the tension between financing and adopting new technologies, particularly green infrastructure, that help to manage urban wastewater. The development of New Haven’s potable water infrastructure reflects the tension between the City, as a major water consumer, and the surrounding towns, in which the vast majority of water resources are located.  New Haven’s supply of water, its climate and water’s low price may lead residents to take water availability for granted, even though those facts are far from permanent. Beyond sanitation, the garbage, recycling and snow removal networks are of significant value to the public health, equity and mobility of New Haven’s citizens. For the most part, the dominance of the municipal government and limited private ownership in the administration of these systems has allowed the networks to operate successfully throughout the city’s history. Although potable water and clean streets seem like ordinary amenities, the development, politics, and administration of the water and waste infrastructure remain intricate and unfinished chapters in New Haven’s archives.

History of New Haven’s Sewage System

The earliest sewer pipe laid in New Haven was located on Chapel Street at the beginning of the nineteenth century; during this time, the city lacked a comprehensive network of sewers that could dispose municipal waste. During Mayor Henry J. Lewis’s administration (1870-77), however, Chicago’s chief engineer E.S. Chesbrough helped to develop a sewage system to meet the needs of the city. Made of brick or vitrified stone, a type of stone that undergoes high temperatures to the point of becoming glazed or glassy, the sewer pipes conveyed both sewage and stormwater and spanned over 60 miles by 1892. In order to continue improving and expanding the system, New Haven spent $125,000 yearly; as a result, sanitation within the city improved significantly, which helped to curb disease transmission and consequently lower the death rate.

While the newly-constructed Farmington Canal in 1828 helped to relieve some of the sewage load, the city relied mainly on the soil for drainage. Like other cities, New Haven had individual privy vaults that contained people’s waste, most of which would percolate through the soil; with a growing population, however, this method of waste management was not only unsustainable but also harmful. In 1917, Yale University Professor Charles-Edward Armory Winslow and other University researchers conducted a health survey of the city, producing a report that raised the concern of disease transmission from excretal waste in these privy vaults to the Civic Federation of New Haven. Meanwhile, the city was transitioning gradually to a more comprehensive and cleaner sewage system that reduced the need for privy vaults. At that time, twelve city wards had public sewers; an estimated fifty vaults were located on these sewered streets and at least 400 remained in the city at large. Many privies were in poor condition, however, especially in the Fair Haven district. Over half of the inspected vaults suffered from exposure to flies, insects, and other vermin. Among the problems were uncovered seats, unscreened windows, open doors, and wide cracks. Disease carried by flies and a potential outbreak of typhoid concerned many citizens. The Civic Federation urged the city to pass an ordinance mandating “all privies to be tightly constructed, screened against flies, and maintained in a sanitary condition; and that a special inspector be detailed to supervise the enforcement of these regulations.”

Open privies like this backyard privy posed serious sanitation problems for New Haven residents. Flies and other vermin could easily enter such privies.Such unsanitary conditions prompted the city to develop a better system of handling people’s wastes.

The city hoped to move toward a complete sewage system and to eliminate privy vaults entirely. In 1918, the city boasted 133 miles of sewers, 20,000 connections, and five main public outfalls aside from smaller private ones that released wastewater into the New Haven harbor. By 1926, the city had 155 miles of sewers, and almost all but three wards had sewage facilities.

New Haven’s sewage system plan included five public outfall sewers (as demarcated by the bold lines). The East Street outfall discharges the most wastewater into the New Haven Harbor. 

This map shows a more comprehensive sewage system in New Haven in 1918 as well as future sewerage district limits. At the bottom, one can see the limit for taking marketable oysters as well as a possible future oyster limit, which would restrict collecting oysters within the boundary given concerns over the harbor’s poor water quality. Source: Winslow et al. Report on The Sewage Disposal Problem of New Haven. 1918

Yet, the existing system spawned serious health and environmental issues. The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry, after having conducted a study on the harbor in 1915, recommended prohibiting sale of oysters cultivated between Morgan Point and Oyster River Point in interstate commerce. In addition, Dr. H.S. Cumming from the U.S. Public Health Service provided information on the water samples taken from the harbor to the Citizens’ Committee; the results showed a large count of B. coli, common intestinal bacteria, in the waters near the outfalls. As recommended by Dr. Cumming, shellfish from the harbor, especially during warm weathers and near the sewer outfalls were unsafe for consumption. He also believed that swimming or bathing in the rivers and parts of the harbor were dangerous to people’s health.

The city faced a series of scientific and engineering challenges in order to improve its sewage system. Heavy rains would overcharge some sewers since Chesbrough did not design a system that separated sewage from stormwater. On Whalley Avenue, for example, backed-up sewers caused the flooding of building cellars. Cleaning the sewage stream before it entered the harbor was another obstacle for chemists and engineers. Given that it discharged the most waste—and particularly industrial waste—the East Street outfall sewer became the site of the Sewage Experiment Station in which experiments were carried out to find the most economical and effective sewage treatment process.

The experimental plant provided a space for Winslow and other researchers to carry out tests in order to determine the best sewage process. Pictured above is the Imhoff tank which carried out one of the experimental processes; however, the team decided to choose the Miles acid process due to lower costs and the ability to recover grease for energy.

Starting in the spring of 1916, the Aldermanic Committee on Sewers and Sanitation worked with a Citizens’ Committee, led by Winslow, to investigate matters regarding the city’s sewage disposal. After 1,000 samples of sewage, effluent, and sludge were tested for bacteria and harmful chemicals, the Committee recommended utilizing the Miles acid process which uses sulphurous acid to solidify and disinfect the sewage. Acid processing of sewage was still new at the time, although the city of Bradford, England, was known to use a similar method. The Committee estimated the annual cost of implementing the Miles acid process to be about $46,000. Two advantages that came with treating sewage through this process were that the sulphurous acid would help counter the putrefaction, and thus odor, of the sludge contained in the tanks at disposal plants, and the ability to recover grease, glycerin, and fertilizing materials from the sewage. In a letter to the new mayor David Fitzgerald, the Committee explicitly remarked on the benefit that such a treatment process would bring not only to the city but also to the nation, then in the midst of World War I. The demand for grease and fertilizer was “likely to remain an urgent one for some time after the war is over; and New Haven by installing a process of this kind can play an important part in the great task of national conservation.” The Committee recommended the construction of a disposal plant at the East Street outfall. The Committee’s report admitted that its study did not address the need for intercepting sewers that would convey sewage to a single location for treatment or the prospect of a shared sewage system between the city and neighboring municipalities, hinting at two remaining challenges which the city would eventually resolve by the end of the twentieth century with the establishment of the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility and the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority.

Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority

Before the creation of The Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (GNHWPCA), the New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) provided the city’s wastewater service. In 1996, the New Haven WPCA began to discuss the possibility of an actual regional wastewater authority; consequently, in 2005, GNHWPCA took over the role of the WPCA and now manages the sewage system in New Haven as well as in three other municipalities (East Haven, Hamden and Woodbridge), the Water Pollution Authority of New Haven provided the wastewater collection and treatment services to the city. This regional water pollution authority was established in June 2005 when all four municipalities passed ordinances pursuant to the C.G.S. §§ 22a-500-519 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which enabled two or more municipalities to form a regional authority through concurrent ordinances passed by their respective legislative bodies, and the State Commissioner of Environmental Protection and the State Treasurer approved the initial operation plan of the member municipalities. The Authority is responsible for a service area covering 53,000 acres.


The GNHWPCA serves four municipalities: New Haven (center), Hamden (north), East Haven (east), and Woodbridge (west). The green represents areas receiving sewer service, much of which is located in New Haven.

It operates and maintains 555 miles of pipelines, 30 pumping stations, and the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement facility. The responsibilities of the GNHWPCA is “to operate the wastewater treatment plant and to use, equip, re-equip, repair, maintain, supervise, manage, operate and perform any act pertinent to the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of sewage with respect to the Constituent Municipalities.”

According to its bylaws, last amended in 2008, a Board of Directors heads the GNHWPCA. The Mayor of New Haven appoints, although the decision is also subject to the approval of the city’s Board of Aldermen, four of the nine Directors. Each Director holds a three-year staggered term. Directors must be at least eighteen-years-old, a resident of the corresponding municipality, and have training or experience in 1) civil or sanitary engineering, 2) finance, accounting, or legal work, or 3) the treatment and operation of a water distribution or sewage system. Other important positions include the Executive Director—a position currently held by Sidney Holbrook, former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection—who administers all activities of the GNHWPCA; the Secretary, who serves as the Executive Director’s assistant; and the Treasurer. As the chief officer, the Executive Director presides over three departments: Finance and Administration, Engineering, and Operations.

East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility

Located on the southern coast of New Haven, the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility can process up to 40 MGD (million gallons per day) on dry weather days. The average daily flow from New Haven into the facility is 19.1 MGD and, together, the three participating municipalities dump 33.3 MGD into the abatement facility. In two-year storm cases (in which a storm is predicted to have a 50% chance of occurring in any given year), only 45% of the wastewater undergoes treatment by the plant. The rest flows untreated into local bodies of water; otherwise, the treatment plant works at an 83% capacity. The New Haven facility is the second largest water treatment plant in the State of Connecticut and uses a suite of technologies to purify the incoming wastewater. A wet electrostatic precipitator rids fine colloidal particles from the water. A regenerative thermal oxidizer eliminates much of the hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. According to Gary Zrelak, the Director of Operations, the facility has one of the best air pollution control systems in the wastewater industry. Because the plant is located near a residential area, air quality is one concern. In the spirit of sustainable technology, the plant is able to generate energy used for operations from steam turbines that capture the heat released from its incinerator. The Executive Director Holbrook is considering energy generated by a potential new windmill as another sustainable way to create energy for the plant.

New Haven’s Current Sewage System

In 2010 New Haven’s sewage system served 22,531 customers—a number that includes residents, businesses, and public entities—the most out of the member municipalities that rely on the GNHWPCA’s service. The higher figure may partly result from New Haven’s larger population of 123,630 people at the time. Compared to the other three cities, New Haven has more pump stations, miles of sewer pipes and manholes as well as the oldest collection system.

New Haven Hamden East Haven Woodbridge
Pump Stations 15 8 6 1
Siphons 1 2 5 0
Manholes 6,600 4,400 3,000 275
Length of Sewage Pipes (miles) 275 168 105 8
Average Age of Collection System (years) 78 75 40 60

Source: “About GNHWPCA.” Accessed 6 Feb. 2014. http://www.gnhwpca.com/about_gnhwpca.aspx

Another distinguishing feature of city’s sewage network is the combined sewers that enable sewage and stormwater runoff to run through the same pipes and undergo treatment together at the wastewater facility.

New Haven’s sewage system has a mix of separate, partially separate, and combined sewers. Combined and partially separated sewers comprise much of the system, which is problematic when heavy rains induce overflows and washes sewage into the harbor.

Historically, the sewage system started out as a combined sewer system, though the city now operates some separated and partially separated sewers as well. One issue with combined sewers is that rainy weather causes overflow in which total wastewater exceeds the pipes’ capacity and ends up flowing into local rivers and other bodies of water, such as the Long Island Sound. Accordingly, the GNHWPCA has created the Combined Sewer Overflow Long-Term Control Plan (CSO-TCP) which aims to reduce overflows into the Sound. The plan requires extensive investments as New Haven switches gradually from combined to separate sewer systems. The City of New Haven and the GNHWPCA will split 40/60 the estimated $400 million cost.  According to the plan, the modified sewer system will be able to process 187 MGD in a 2-year storm scenario, which should lower a CSO event by 30%. Besides decreasing the number of storage tanks, the plan calls for pump station improvements. Stormwater runoff is the largest source of water pollution for New Haven and other places. The plan, however, has helped to reduce the frequency of CSO by over 25% since 1997.

Stormwater System

While the City of New Haven does not manage its sewage system, it is held accountable for its stormwater system. The city estimates that over half of the stormwater flows through a separated stormwater system while the remaining flows through the combined sewer system. The service area spans about 19 square miles of primarily urbanized land. The City Departments of Engineering and Public Works manage stormwater operations and the maintenance of storm sewers, catch basins, pipes, culverts, and drainage channels. Planning and construction of capital improvements and regulatory compliance are also responsibilities that fall under these two departments. The Director of Public Works (currently Douglas Arndt) and the City Engineer (currently vacant position) have to report to the City Manager. According to the information collected with geographic information systems, the city’s stormwater system consists of about 160 miles of separate sewers that are approximately 42 years old. A variety of materials compose these pipes: concrete, iron, corrugated metal and plastic, tile, brick and wood, with diameters ranging from 8 to 288 inches. Furthermore, 6,000 manholes, 32 chambers, 3 tees, 29 inlets, 260 outfalls, and 7,000-9,000 catch basins are located in New Haven. Totaling the potential values (which account for the original cost minus improvement costs) of these stormwater assets, the City has estimated the potential market value of its stormwater system at $41,200,000.

The City states that the accuracy of the information on the current stormwater system still needs more verification given the lack of historical records on the city’s stormwater infrastructure. In fact, parts of the stormwater system are more than 80 years old. Much of the stormwater infrastructure is subterranean, which renders inspection and assessment challenging. Nevertheless, through field inspections, the City has been able to asses the physical conditions of its outfalls, many of which were hard to locate. The City ranked the majority of the outlets with at least a 2 out of 5; with an average score of 2.4, the New Haven Stormwater Outlet System is in good operating condition with minor improvements needed.

Sewage: A Matter of Public Health

The concern over people’s health has been the driving force behind the development of sewage infrastructure in New Haven. The fear of unsanitary conditions and an ensuing epidemic in the 19th century drove the city to eliminate privy vaults and construct a municipal sewage system that would more effectively convey and treat the residents’ wastes. Today, the issue of public health continues as New Haven residents push the GNHWPCA to stop incinerating sludge at the East Shore sewage treatment plant. Processing sewage produces a thick mixture called sludge which may contain a variety of substances such as flame retardants, pesticides, herbicides, radionuclides, hospital waste, and cleaning and personal care products; incinerating sludge thus emits harmful compounds like mercury, benzene, and dioxin into the water and atmosphere, which can lead to illnesses such as cancer and birth defects.

At the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility, once the sludge is fed into a centrifuge in which liquid is removed, the “cake” that forms then goes into the incinerator room via a conveyor belt. Incinerating sludge releases a variety of compounds into the atmosphere, which causes pollution and threatens the health of local residents. Source: Thomas MacMillan, “Odor ‘Seen’ At City’s Scum Pumps,” New Haven Independent, May 02, 2012, http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/ entry/gnhwpca_tour/.

The East Shore plant is located behind Woodward Avenue, near a residential area. In fact, it is not farther than 200 meters away from the nearest cluster of homes. The East Shore Park and Nathan Hale School are also in the vicinity. In 2007, residents attended a meeting with the GNHWPCA to discuss alternatives to sludge incineration; the Executive Director Dominick DiGangi of the GNHWPCA and the project manager of CH2M (the firm designated by GNHWPCA to research possible alternatives) declared that by 2014 they would have a proposal on managing sewage sludge.

Residents, however, oppose not only the fact that sludge incineration put them at a higher health risk but also how the plant has been processing sludge from outside the region. Through a contract with Synagro, a private company that provides waste capture and conversion services, the GNHWPCA has been processing 18 tons of sludge from other places outside of the four constituent municipalities. Synagro takes pride for having introduced more places that would benefit from sending their waste to the plant; it has helped to “enhance its operational efficiency and generate a source of income for the host community.” However, while the plant is able to maximize capacity, Synagro is making a profit at the expense of the East Shore residents’ well-being. Although in 2005 the New Haven Board of Alderman unanimously passed a non-binding resolution that requested the GNHWPCA to end all sludge agreements with outside municipalities, to enter into no new agreements involving sludge incineration and to replace sludge incineration with better technology by 2015, the GNHWPCA has yet to finalize its decision. DiGangli himself did not show much enthusiasm over potential alternatives to sludge incineration, mainly remarking on cost concerns during a meeting with the New Haven Board of Aldermen. He stated how opting for an alternative could result in an increase in taxpayers’ money since the current method enables the city to gain revenue from processing sewage from suburban towns; furthermore, while the current annual cost $31 million, the costs to process the sludge into a cake or liquid form would cost $62 and $91 million, respectively, and the facility would still ship this waste to another plant that would incinerate it, said DiGangli.

The Executive Director position, however, has switched hands; now Sidney Holbrook must respond to the pressures of the public, especially since Synagro’s 20-year contract expires in 2014. To what degree must he respond, though, is another matter. Given that the GNHWPCA is regional authority, the City of New Haven does not exercise full power over sewage management. Thus, despite the Board of Aldermen’s 2005 resolution, the GNHWPCA need not comply with its conditions. Activists and residents may protest, write letters to the GNHWPCA, and debate at public meetings, but the fight against a quasi-governmental authority will be difficult, not to mention that New Haven is not the only municipality that it officially serves. Were sewage management the way it was before when it fell under the City’s authority, perhaps the locals would have had a more successful chance of making their case heard. Often times interlocal agreements that allow cities to adopt regional infrastructure can benefit these cities as they can share costs and maximize the infrastructure’s capacity; a number of regional water authorities exist across the U.S. While regional networks provide advantages to cities, problems arise when a member of that region raises a concern that affects only that member. Such is the case for New Haven; however, while sludge incineration directly affects residents who live near the plant more, a much greater population must also shoulder the negative consequences since the chemicals released during the sewage process can enter the air and water and settle in the soil, which truly makes this matter a threat to public health for many.

“Green” Matters: Money and the Environment

While a number of residents, activists and local officials fight for the noble cause of environmental protection, financing infrastructure continues to be a salient issue in city politics. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, municipal stormwater discharge is a significant contamination source for the nation’s water; as a result, New Haven through its Stormwater Management Plan has been applying and renewing permits (in 2004 and 2009) for stormwater discharges in compliance with a federal regulation called Stormwater Phase II. Given New Haven’s combined sewer system, the GNHWPCA cannot evade all responsibility and must also comply with federal environmental regulations. Accordingly, as required by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protect which has been delegated the authority to enforce federal environmental regulation, the GNHWPCA has been trying to implement its CSO-TCP that aims to mitigate overflows into local waters. It has considered using a portion of the request $446 million (for the overall plan) to make upgrades to the East Shore plant. Public money is the major source for funding this cost, and so environmental and community activists were quick to ask the regional authority to opt for “green” infrastructure options (ones that take advantage of vegetation and natural processes to manage water) instead of developing or upgrading “grey” infrastructure. Activist Lynne Bonnet has been an opponent of spending more public money on sewage plant upgrades and holding tanks (receptacle for sewage); she and as well as others have called for green alternatives. In 2012, in a public email, Holbrook stated that the regional authority would continue to consider integrating green infrastructure into its long term plan but that “stormwater management and therefore more numerous opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure is the responsibility of the City.”

Unlike sewage management, stormwater management lies within the purview of the City of New Haven, allowing New Haven to take more control over the costs of managing stormwater runoff and to adopt new ideas to improve the existing stormwater system. In a Board of Aldermen meeting in 2011, city official Rob Smuts suggested that the city implement a new Stormwater Authority. Taxpayers are wary of this new plan, which would involve charging stormwater removal fees; the current system covers stormwater costs through property taxes. Smuts, however, has argued that this new change would save local taxpayers $600,000 annually, and those owning tax-exempt property (e.g. Yale University) would share the cost of managing the city’s stormwater; but many are concerned over whether property taxes would proportionately decrease with the proposed fees.

While the City continues to find ways to improve and finance its stormwater management plan, the GNHWPCA has recently planned to implement a project in East Rock that would construct a mile of separate stormwater pipes, 37 manholes, 24 new catch basins, and seven bioswales as a part of its CSO-TCP. These bioswales would be located along Clark and Orange Avenues, slightly below street level between the curb and sidewalk; filled with soil, gravel, and vegetation, these natural infiltration systems will help reduce stormwater runoff from exacerbating combined sewer overflow into local waters.

The proposed bioswales (5×20 feet) in East Rock will resemble the one pictured here. Soil, gravel, trees, and plants help to absorb and slow down stormwater runoff. This system will help reduce CSO, a goal pursued by both the GNHWPCA and the City. Source: Allan Appel, “$13M ‘Green’ Sewer Project Unveiled,” New Haven Independent, 2014.

With bioswales and 300 meters of pervious concrete sidewalk to absorb the stormwater, this project is considered to be the largest undertaking that integrates green infrastructure for stormwater management in the city. While many environmental-conscious folks receive this news with joy, others may feel less enthusiastic about the price tag that comes with this new construction. The estimated cost is $13 million. The GNHWPCA plans to apply for the state’s Clean Water Fund to cover a portion of the cost as well as borrow the money; however, the City of New Haven will have to pay off 40% of the debt. Taxpayers once again must decide whether or not to support such a project. Nevertheless, this project will lead the city toward a more sustainable solution, one that will reduce stormwater runoff as well as other environmental impacts associated with constructing or upgrading grey infrastructure. Since the city’s stormwater management plan emphasizes green infrastructure, the regional authority will have higher a chance of getting the city’s approval for implementing this East Rock project. Although infrastructure costs, especially initial investments, can at times hamper the advancement of innovative ideas and technology, a shared vision, such as improving water quality by reducing stormwater runoff, among people can catapult the city (and regional) officials to invest in new infrastructure.

Farmington Canal

Originally constructed to ease trade between inland Connecticut and the New Haven coast, advocates of the Farmington Canal also believed that the Farmington Canal had the potential to act as a source of water for public use. At an 1829 City meeting, bonds worth $100,000 were approved to aid the administrators of the Farmington Canal to clean the water and prepare the infrastructure for use as fire protection, an intersection between the water, trade and transport infrastructure of New Haven until its conversion to a railroad.

New Haven Water Company

The New Haven Water Company was chartered in 1849 by New Haven industrialists James Brewster, Henry Peck, E.G. Read, and H.H. Hotchkiss. Five years later, the Water Company and the City of New Haven entered into a 20-year contract for the Company to supply water for public purposes. Eli Whitney joined the New Haven Water Company team when he was asked to lead the construction of the first waterworks, on the Mill River; the dam that was constructed created Lake Whitney. When water first began pumping through them, the length of the water mains reached nearly 18 miles throughout the city; water wheels were used to pump the water until steam pumps were installed in 1871.

A series of disputes arose with each renewal of the original contract, until an effort by the City to acquire the Water Company culminated in a 1902 contract that guaranteed a “full and adequate supply of water for all reasonable present and future public and municipal purposes whatsoever…including water for school and fire protection services…without cost or charge.” The contract also stipulated that the Water Company charge a “fair and reasonable” rate for water consumption by New Haven residents. Most importantly, the contract provided the City with the option to purchase the Water Company’s property and assets once every 25 years. In 1902, the first filtration plant was also constructed to filter the water supply from Lake Whitney, with the Armory Street Pumping Station facilitating the filtration.

Figure 9- The New Haven Supply and Distribution Mains in 1900

This map reveals the extent to which the water infrastructure had been developed by 1900 and mirrors the street grid. Source: “Map of the Supply and Distribution Mains of the New Haven Water Company,” 1900, Map, New Haven, CT, Yale University, Visual Resources Collection. 

The Armory Street Pumping Station could pump 5 million gallons of water from Lake Whitney in 1934. Source: New Haven Water Company, Our Water Supply: New Haven Water Company (New Haven: New Haven Water Company, 1934), 15, 24. 

This diagram from a 1955 New Haven Water Company brochure explains to residents how the water supply system operates. Reservoirs collect water, which then flows through a series of stations that filter the water and provide treatment with copper sulfate and chlorine to prevent algae and bacterial growth. Standpipes provide high-pressure water flow to reach higher-elevation areas in the region. Source: New Haven Water Company, Water: Lifestream of a Community (New Haven: New Haven Water Company, 1955), 2.

By 1974, the Water Company owned 26,000 acres in seventeen towns around New Haven, though only four acres were located in New Haven. A proposal by the Company to sell more than half of its holdings to private developers instigated a statewide discussion on the merits of private ownership of the water supply. Complicating matters were the fact that the suburban towns around New Haven disliked the idea that the City of New Haven would own thousands of acres of their land without any obligation to pay taxes or equivalent payments, which by 1985 was expected to save the water authority $7.4 million. This controversy laid the foundations for the creation of a public regional water authority.

This political cartoon appearing in the February 6, 1977 edition of the New Haven Register describes the tension between the City of New Haven and the surrounding towns. As New Haven threatened to exercise its option to purchase the New Haven Water Company, the towns feared that a single neighboring city, not required to pay any taxes, might own thousands of acres of their land. An agreement to form a public water utility, in which each town was represented, was eventually reached. Source: Claire C. Bennitt and Dorothy S. McCluskey, Who Wants to Buy a Water Company? (Bethel: Rutledge Books, Inc., 1996), 12.

South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority

The South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) was established by a bill passed by the Connecticut legislature in 1977, for which the legislature was forced to override a veto by Governor Ella Grasso, who seemed to resent the autonomy the organization had from the State. The Authority was structured so that each town would receive payments in lieu of taxes relative to their contributions to the Authority’s infrastructure.

Today, the RWA’s 27,000 acres of land and 1,701 miles of main serve over 400,000 people in the region. Water is sourced from ten lakes and three aquifers. Although there are 15 reservoirs within the RWA system, most are not used for the water supply. The latest reservoir to be reactivated was Lake Whitney, just outside of New Haven and unused between 1991 and 2005, upon completion of the new Whitney Water Purification Facility.

Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park

The Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park opened in 2005 at a cost of $60 million and is indicative of the value placed on sustainability and design today, even for municipal infrastructure. A design committee composed of neighboring residents selected Steven Holl Architects from an initial list of 25. The landscape is a “microcosm of the entire regional watershed,” using swales instead of a traditional drainage system and several types of landscapes that guide runoff to a new pond. The building itself has the largest green roof in the state (30,000 square feet) and is temperature controlled by geothermal wells. The design evokes its function and reflects the surrounding landscape.

Figure 13- New Standards for Infrastructure Design

Steven Holl Architects designed the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park, which opened in 2005 to process water from the first New Haven Water Company reservoir; it does so within an award-winning structure, which also includes a public educational center. Source: Steven Holl Architects, “Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park,” accessed February 12, 2014.

Bottled Water and New Haven

The City of New Haven spends $32,000 annually on five-gallon jugs of water for City Hall and other municipal offices, and individual water bottles to sell in all school cafeterias. The same amount of tap water would cost $160.

Public discussion over this contrast in cost arose in March 2011, when the Board of Aldermen unanimously agreed to ban the purchasing of bottled water by the City. The proposal was advanced by the Board because for 200 times the cost of tap water, the City and its people were no better off than if they had simply drunk tap water. First, bottled water quality is not necessarily better. Whereas bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency; the International Bottled Water Association claims that FDA regulations are required to be at least as restrictive as those of the EPA, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has found significant discrepancies. Until July 2013, bottled water was not required to undertake as stringent testing and there were fewer restrictions on treating bacteria and contaminants as compared to city tap water systems. Luckily, these discrepancies never seemed to apply in New Haven’s case, as the bottle water being delivered to New Haven actually originates as tap water from Worcester, MA (another reason why the spending is unnecessary). Second, bottled water is detrimental to the environment and its users. Less than 25% of all plastic bottles are actually recycled, and the plastic used, including in the case of New Haven’s five-gallon jugs, contains Bisphenol A, a known cause of health issues. The manufacturing of the plastic for the bottles and their transport, 100 miles in the case of New Haven, contributes to fossil fuel emissions for wholly unnecessary reasons. Lastly, New Haven committed through the U.S. Conference of Mayors to “reduce [its] spending on bottled water and to support [its] public water systems,” and at least 100 cities have implemented similar legislation.

Despite the action taken by the Board of Aldermen, they did not have jurisdiction over the sale of bottled water in schools. Additionally, the removal of water jugs in municipal offices was a change in working conditions that had to be approved by each municipal union, and in December 2013 the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations validated a 2011 complaint that each union did not sign the same waiver, implying unfair implementation; the result was the resumption of bottled water delivery to City of New Haven offices.

Water Consumption

Efforts periodically arise to raise awareness of the extent to which each person consumes water, especially during the occasional drought warnings; remedies to limit usage include affixing devices to sinks and showers that reduce the flow of water, in some cases without reduction in pressure. Otherwise, some of the hope for water usage reduction lies within larger sustainability efforts, such as Yale University’s 2013 goal of reducing campus potable water use by 5% over three years.

Part of the challenge in reducing consumption is that water prices are extremely low, especially compared to bottled water or other liquids, a fact that does not discourage usage. One of the reasons why they are so low is that users only pay for the supply of the water and not the water itself, a situation which leaves regions vulnerable to water crises and contentious battles over water allocation. Furthermore, the tension between water for human consumption and for the environment has an impact on the water supply. In 2005, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill expanding the State’s purview over stream flow from just those that stock fish to all rivers and streams, which meant that the State could pass rules setting a minimum amount of water that privately-owned reservoirs must release into rivers and streams. Based on this new authority, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection proposed rules almost five years later that faced fierce resistance by water utilities and businesses. These rules were unanimously rejected by the Connecticut legislature regulations review committee on the basis of fears that they would lead to shortages and higher prices. Revised rules that set a lower minimum for the amount of water that must be released from dams were approved in 2011.

Water consumption remains a long-term issue that New Haven and Connecticut must address. One need only look to California’s unending water tribulations for both a cautionary tale on water mismanagement and to understand the reprieve—perhaps temporary—that the Connecticut climate grants its people.

Garbage Disposal Network


Throughout the 20th and 21st century, the municipal government and private companies have provided New Haven citizens the service of removing trash. New Haven’s garbage disposal collection began in 1876, overseen by the New Haven Board of Health. The Department of Public Works took over control in 1915 and still remains in charge of the system today. In the early 1900’s, the city collected garbage in an area bounded by Chapel Street on the Southwest, and State Street and the Mill River on the Northeast. The first garbage trucks in New Haven were metal wagons that picked up trash every three to four days from November to April and alternate week days May to October. Yet the garbage disposal system was highly unreliable, as trash was left on the street or dumped into backyard lots, resulting in widespread sanitation and public health issues. Garbage that was successfully picked up by wagons was transported to one of fifteen city dumps or a private dump.

This picture shows how garbage would pile up in backyard plots of poorer sections of the city. Source: Winslow et. al., Health survey of New Haven. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917.

One of the 15 city dumps that was run by the municipal government.Source: Winslow et. al., Health survey of New Haven. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917

In addition to the city dumps, New Haven operated its own hog farms, in which garbage was fed to the pigs. It was commonly held that this removal method was an economically efficient way to decrease the amount of trash generated from the city. For example, in 1916, New Haven reported that garbage, collected from 52,100 people of the city, was fed to pigs, and $16,000 was generated from the sale of pork. The US Food and Drug Administration calculated that 100 hogs could consume one ton of trash per day. Public health officials advised the city government early on that this was not a good idea. An issue of the Bridgeport Herald in 1910 informed citizens that these pigs were consuming Paris green, carbolic acid, and waste from patients in hospitals, decreasing their life expectancy. Yet the article stated, “It is fortunate for the majority of the people of New Haven that they do not know where the carcasses of these hogs go after they are butchered or die on account of their diet, else it might not increase their appetites for chops, bacon, ham and other products of the porker.” It appears as if the author is implying that consumer transparency is not really necessary; in fact it is detrimental to know what the food you’re consuming had consumed. Furthermore, New Haven, and many other state governments, persisted feeding hogs garbage, insisting that that method was better than incinerators or other removal systems. Twenty out of sixty six American cities with more than 100,000 residents used hogs as a method of trash removal by 1918. This practice ended up directly causing a series of trichinosis cases in the 1930s. By the 1980’s, only trash that was cooked was fed to hogs, due to the passage of the federal Swine Health Protection Act in 1980. The argument that cooking trash reduces the risk of foreign animal disease and other pathogens in pigs is still held as true. Today, Connecticut allows cooked garbage fed to swine.

As New Haven has developed, the garbage disposal network has expanded to fit the needs of citizens. Private institutions, such as hospitals and schools, including Yale, have their own trash removal systems and incinerators. Municipal garbage trucks operating in residential areas collect trash once a week; the day of pick up depends on where you live in the city. To dispose of residential waste such as tires, metal, electronics, and yard waste, citizens must use coupons to drop off their waste at the Transfer station on Middletown Avenue, run by the New Haven Solid Waste and Recycling Authority. Coupons are free, but only four residential waste and four yard waste coupons are allocated to each citizen. One coupon permits a citizen to dispose seven items of residential waste each visit. Construction debris can also be deposited at Middletown Avenue, at a disposal cost of $.05 a pound. Hazardous waste must be dropped off at the Regional Water Authority’s HazWaste Central.

This map shows the current routes of the garbage trucks serving New Haven residencies. Each color-coded area represents one route to follow.

Throughout the 20th century, the one municipal landfill and incinerator that has served New Haven, in addition to East Haven and Hamden, was located on Middletown Avenue. This incinerator was built in 1963, and is still there today, but it does not perform as an active landfill. By the 1970s, the physical area of the landfill had diminished because of the large amounts of waste deposited, causing the landfill to encroach on the Quinnipiac River. The Middletown Avenue landfill has stopped operations and now is acting as a Transfer Station, a dumping ground for refuse that will be taken to another incinerator to be burned. Municipal solid waste is either incinerated at Connecticut resource recovery facilities, or disposed of at Connecticut landfills or out of state landfills. There are six resource recovery facilities across the state, in which municipal solid waste is converted to energy, reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills. As of 2003, only three percent, about 121,000 tons of Connecticut Municipal Solid Waste was disposed of in in-state landfills, as there were only two active landfills in Connecticut: Hartford and Windsor Bloomfield Sanitary Landfill. There are other solid waste landfills located throughout the greater New England area that Connecticut refuse is transported to. The majority of waste is transported to Pennsylvania and New York, in addition to exports to Massachusetts, Ohio and New Jersey.

The Middletown Avenue Landfill and Incinerator plan is outlined in this 1989. Today, this serves as a Transfer Station to hold New Haven’s trash to be transferred to other incinerators.

This map shows the various centers in which municipal waste is turned into energy. The incinerator types include large and small municipal waste combustors, medical waste combustors, boilers, other solid waste incineration units and sewage sludge incinerators. Source: “Combustors in New England: Where are they?”. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed March 1, 2014.

Garbage: More than just Sanitation

A recent controversy affecting the Connecticut, and New Haven, garbage system happened in 2008, when the federal court convicted James Galante for racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and wire fraud conspiracy. James Galante was the owner of 25 garbage companies that served 80% of garbage disposal in southwestern Connecticut, and some parts of New York, including Automated Waste Disposal, Thomas Refuse Service, American Disposal Services of CT, Transfer Systems Inc. and Greensphere. For years, he operated an illegal monopoly over customer accounts in order to fix prices and rigged bids for certain trash contracts, one contract involving Yale. His empire was claimed to be worth more than $100 million. He was sentenced to 87 months in jail and prohibited future involvement in the trash industry, in addition to being required to pay a fine of $100,000 and to forfeit all his companies to the federal government.

    The garbage infrastructure network is of utmost importance to New Haven citizens because of its strong influence on public health. While efficient trash removal methods may improve the physical hygiene of the city or an individual, a person’s wellbeing can also be endangered, like in the case of garbage fed swine and trichinosis. It should be imperative to run environmental impact assessments of incinerators or landfills, because although they may be disposing of the waste generated by our society, they could be creating or contributing to health problems in ways in which we are not aware. This network has so much power that it can both significantly help and damage our health.

Recycling Network

The Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 encouraged state governments to develop more ambitious in-state recycling programs. In 1987, Connecticut passed a law banning recyclable items from municipal solid waste landfills and mandating townships to supply recycling services for their citizens. Connecticut passed legislation in 1990 instructing local governments to require citizens and businesses to recycle, and mandated recycling of items that had been banned from municipal solid waste landfills.

Today, New Haven’s Office of Sustainability manages the recycling network that serves residencies in the city. New Haven has a single-stream recycling program, allowing citizens to recycle plastic goods, paper products, metal and glass, excluding food waste, plastic bags and Styrofoam. Citizens may deposit their recycling at the recycling center at New Haven’s Municipal Transfer Station, which is owned by the New Haven Solid Waste and Recycling Authority and privately run. Citizens may also leave their recycling on the curbside once a week for the public recycling trucks to pick up.

New Haven divides its courses of recycling pickup into three routes, as indicated by the colors on the map. Source: Department of Public Works. “Trash and Recycling”. Accessed March 1, 2014.

The city government has been very active in promoting the act of recycling. The cost of discarding recycling for the city is $36.80 per ton of recycling, while the cost of discarding garbage is $87.50, therefore it is more economically efficient for the city to have its citizens recycle. Furthermore, New Haven is trying to follow the Connecticut State goal of 58% recycling by 2024, declared in the State of Connecticut Solid and Waste Management Plan 2006. As the current diversion rate of recycling for New Haven is only 30%, it is in the hands of the citizens to recycle to promote environmental sustainability. In order to provide incentives for citizens to recycle more, New Haven established a comprehensive plan in 2010 to revamp the network over three years. The plan installed a single-stream recycling program, so it would be relieve the burden of sorting recyclable materials on citizens. In addition, the City Chief Administrative Officer of New Haven at the time, Robert Smuts, planned to spend $1.5 million of New Haven funds to buy and distribute 35,000 newly sized trash bins over time. These trash bins were designed smaller, 48 gallons, compared to the previous larger bins, 96 gallons; his intention was for citizens to throw out less and recycle more. Today, the 96-gallon bins are utilized for recycling curbside pickup, while the 48-gallon bins are used for trash curbside pickup.

Recycling and Equality

This infrastructure network is an instrument of social utopianism to a certain degree. For example, recycling is an act that equalizes citizens, as anyone can participate in recycling. It helps not just the individual who performs the task, but the society as a whole. Through recycling, we are all working towards a common goal: economic and environmental progress of the sustainability of New Haven. Yet, access to disposing recycling is not necessarily equal among citizens, as some may not own cars to drive to the Middletown Avenue Transfer Station, or some may not live in residences that are incorporated into the recycling network. Therefore, recycling should not be glorified as the solution to the city’s social problems, but it nevertheless can impact the environment and economy beneficially. Citizens should be encouraged to use this network, to the extent that they are able to do so, in order to contribute to New Haven’s future.

Snow Removal Network

The snow removal system in New Haven, run by the Department of Public Works, covers a network of 226 miles of roads. The network is separated into 22 normal snow routes, each 10 miles long, that require three to six hours to plow, six narrow routes, which overlap the normal routes, and seven arterial routes. Snowplow trucks, prepared in October, in advance of the winter season, service these various types of routes. The Department of Public Works operates 28 snow plow vehicles, three payloaders and small snow equipment. In the case of extremely heavy snowfall, garbage truck plows, and snowplow equipment from the Parks department, the Board of Education, and the Livable City Initiative is used. In order for the trucks to run efficiently within the network, a GPS system is used to monitor the Department’s operations during a storm.

The snow removal network is divided up into 22 routes, each 10 miles long, estimated to take three to six hours to plow. Source: Department of Public Works. “Snow Removal”. Accessed March 1, 2014. http://cityofnewhaven.com/PublicWorks/trash/SnowRemoval.asp


In the event of a snowstorm with four inches of snow or below, the Department of Public Works claims that snow will be removed from major roads in eight hours, and all roads will be cleared in 24 hours after the end of a storm. For a storm with ten or more inches of snow, it is proposed that major roads will be most likely cleared within one day after the end of the storm, and snow will be removed from the rest of the network by 48 hours. Additionally, the Department of Public Works is in charge of clearing snow from sidewalks in downtown New Haven, and performing plowing operations for the Housing Authority of New Haven.

This infrastructure network has increasing importance in today’s society, because our environment is becoming less predictable, as sea levels rise and storms intensify. Specifically, the snow removal network may have to change operation and planning months, if snow beings to come earlier or last later. Climate change is changing our understanding of weather and seasons, and so infrastructure must respond accordingly.

Snow Network Changes the Definition of Distance

The snow removal network is easily overlooked and underappreciated. It is very easy to complain that the small streets around your house are neglected, or that the roads in the city are not cleared fast enough. Yet, this infrastructure is extremely critical to the built environment because it changes our conception of space. With the establishment of a snow removal network, snow no longer becomes a constraint that forces us to remain in our homes; snow does not make the time or distance to the city center or to work impossible anymore. Snow removal allows us to control nature to some extent, and as a result, our expectations and others’ expectations of us shift. For example, we can still take the trip to the supermarket, even when it’s snowing. Also, the claim that one could not drive to work because of the snow has become less persuasive. Because of the snow removal network, our lives are able to continue on, protected from the perils of nature around us.


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