Teenagers in Waterbury and Naugatuck are getting their feet wet this summer with police officers. Both groups are working together to pick trash out of the Naugatuck River.
It’s part of a group called the Waterbury River Brigade.
“Seeing stuff and debris and litter all over the river, it’s kind of heartbreaking to me,” said Zakary Robushi, a Naugatuck teen who is back for his second summer of work. “I feel motivated when I see the trash because I know I have to get it out.”
In all, 12 kids from Waterbury and two from Naugatuck are part of the program. They’ll be paid $10.50 an hour over eight weeks.
In the program’s first summer last year, Robushi and his peers ended up hauling out huge steel beams, metal pipes, large pieces of wood, and huge piles of other junk.
“I know that we are making a difference,” he said.
The river brigade is one part of Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary’s response to a massive raw sewage spill that happened at the Waterbury waste water treatment plant in 2017. Several pictures of dead fish popped up on Facebook, alarming many people throughout the Naugatuck Valley.
News 8 has covered the story extensively. Here’s what Mayor O’Leary told us about how that raw sewage spill happened.
“It was a combination of things,” Mayor O’Leary said. “So, we had a severe storm roll in where we got 4 inches of rain in an hour, we had a mechanical breakdown at our waste treatment plant, electrical breakdown where the generators were supposed to kick on and did not because of a second mechanical failure and as a result we had that enormous spill in the river.”
News 8 asked how he addressed those problems at the plant.
“What I learned from then is we needed to do better,” Mayor O’Leary said. “And we did do better. We brought in a company to run our waste treatment plant, as a result of that, and we provided better training to our employees during that transition.”
As far as the river brigade goes, the mayor asked environmental activist Kevin Zak to oversee the effort. Zak is the founder of a non-profit group called the Naugatuck River Revival Group.
Zak has been a very outspoken advocate for taking care of the Naugatuck River and making sure it’s healthy.
When the raw sewage spill first happened, News 8 interviewed Zak. He called the river “a toilet bowl.” Now, he tells News 8 the water has drastically improved.
“It’s clear and cool,” Zak said. “Beautiful.”
He also gives credit to Mayor O’Leary for keeping his promise to clean the river and care for it.
“Give him all the credit in the world,” Zak said. “He has followed through.”
Free download: Access Connecticut breaking news, weather, stream newscasts live and more on-the-go with News 8 alerts directly to your phone.