Receding flood waters aren't necessarily diminishing problems for western New England residents. Pollution — in the form of debris and sewage — is flowing into local rivers.
Raw sewage is flowing from the Greenfield wastewater treatment plant into the Deerfield River at a rate of three million gallons a day.
Sandra Shields, director of Greenfield's Department of Public Works, said the plant was inundated with water during Tropical Storm Irene. She stood in galoshes outside the facility, which the river now surrounds like a moat around a castle.
Shields says the plant was built to withstand a flood of well more than 100 feet, but Irene brought even more than that.
"Obviously we know we're on a floodplain here and we have flood operations and they were enacted," Shields said. "The problem was, the building was designed to be flood-proof up to 140 feet and the crew is already working on some changes to get that level higher. Hopefully, this won't happen again."
“I don’t think we’ll really know the extent of the damage or what needs to be done still for a few more days.”Andrew Fisk, Connecticut River Watershed Association
Massachusetts health officials say contamination by potentially harmful bacteria in the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers is likely and they are urging people not to swim, fish or go canoeing or kayaking downstream of the two rivers' confluence at Montague City.
The advisory extends some 45 miles downriver from Greenfield to Longmeadow on the Connecticut border. Although dilution is expected to reduce the threat as distance grows, Connecticut officials have been notified of the issue.
The Connecticut River Watershed Council, a group that closely monitors the river's health, says the raw sewage should not cause permanent damage. But Andrew Fisk, the group's executive director, said Irene delivered punishing blows up and down the river's course.
"In some of the watersheds in Vermont, it's simply unprecedented flooding," Fisk said. "I don't think we'll really know the extent of the damage or what needs to be done still for a few more days."
Shields estimates it will take six weeks to get the facility back online.
Authorities are also cautioning people to be aware of hazardous debris — from plywood to propane tanks — that was swept up by the rapidly moving floodwaters and is being uncovered as they recede. Meanwhile, several portions of Interstate 91, which parallels the Connecticut River, remain closed in Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut.
This program aired on August 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.