2016-06-23 / Around Town

Surfers Say Broken Pipe Stinks

By Olga Enger


David McLaughlin with Clean Ocean Access examines the cracked pipe leaving The Breakers property. David McLaughlin with Clean Ocean Access examines the cracked pipe leaving The Breakers property. As a group of surfers watched the incoming swells come in on Wednesday, June 15, they noticed a fecal smell and a crack in an old pipe that led to the water from The Breakers.

“They gave me a call,” said David McLaughlin with Clean Ocean Access (COA). “We inspected the area, took pictures and collected a water sample.” Although the localized sample came back at the highest contamination level, tests taken at the nearby surfing spot off Ruggles Avenue indicated that things were normal.

“It’s a sign that there wasn’t much of a sewage discharge and that it was very isolated,” said McLaughlin.

The pipe was fixed and inspected by the city on Tuesday.

“The toilets at The Breakers, which had been taken out of service, are operating again,” said Andrea Carneiro with the Preservation Society of Newport County. Carneiro said a leak in a Vanderbiltera pipe 14 feet underground became corroded.

However, how long the pipe was leaking or how much sewage oozed into the water is uncertain.

“I have no idea for how long,” said Newport Director of Utilities Julia Forgue. The city was able to pinpoint the problem through a dye test, which was put in the toilet and traced back to the leak, said Forgue.

McLaughlin said it was a “coordination of circumstances” that the broken pipe was found, because the surfers were at the location when it was leaking. He estimated that there are at least 100 pipes that run off the Cliff Walk.

Nevertheless, reported leaks off the Cliff Walk are rare.

“In recent history I don’t remember any reports of pipes leaking into the water,” said former Cliff Walk Commission Chair Robert Power. He added the area has had issues with drainage, which is why grass was planted to create a permeable surface to the turnaround at Narragansett Avenue.

“The first indication the Preservation Society had of a problem was a notice from the City of Newport on June 16. When The Breakers opened for business on the 17th, all toilets were closed and additional porta-potties were placed in service,” said Carneiro.

The cause of the problem, which was isolated to repairs made in the ’70s, was identified on Monday.

“The 1970s repairs were proper best practices for that era, but the pipe has now been completely disconnected as current standards require,” Carneiro reported.

McLaughlin said the isolated incident is a reminder for businesses and residents to ensure their sewage connections and pipes are in working order.

“I don’t think any property owners are intentionally incorrectly connected. However, it only takes one bad apple to make a bad apple pie,” McLaughlin said, meaning one breach may contaminate an entire water source.

“If you are a resident or a business and have questions on your sewage pipes, contact the city and ask if they have done a home inspection,” he continued. Additionally, it’s important to review downspouts to ensure they are not connected to the sewage system and preferably drain to a permeable surface.

“The area between Thames and Spring is difficult, because many houses do not have yards,” McLaughlin said. He suggested residents may use a rain barrel and slowly release the water so as not to overwhelm the city’s system.

“If you have a yard, it’s always better to release water onto a permeable surface, which gives Mother Nature a chance to filter the water. Slowing down the flow of stormwater is a very important step in protecting our drinking water sources.”

For more information on or to volunteer, visit cleanoceanaccess.org.

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