The Connecticut River after Tropical Storm Elsa looked like a chocolate milkshake. And the reason is pretty gross: rainwater runoff and raw sewage.
This dirty water makes its way into rivers because of century-old infrastructure called “combined sewer systems,” which merge stormwater and household water into one big pipe. And when it rains a lot, those pipes can get overloaded, forcing regional water officials to dump that dirty water directly into rivers and streams.
“Everything that gets flushed down a toilet or put down a storm drain is in that water,” said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy. “It has significant public health impacts for people, and it also has impacts on the critters that live in the river.”
And in that raw sewage is a lot of bad stuff: bacteria, viruses and toxins.