City of Buffalo Ordered to Stop Polluting Niagara River

BUFFALO, New York, March 26, 2012 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Buffalo Sewer Authority to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for combined sewer systems to protect people’s health and the water quality of the Niagara River.

Combined sewer systems carry domestic sewage, stormwater runoff and industrial wastewater in the same pipes. During periods of heavy rain or snowmelt, they can overflow and send untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris into local waters.

Authorities estimate that Buffalo’s combined sewer system dumps almost four billion gallons of combined sewage overflow to the Niagara River and its tributaries each year.

The Niagara River as it flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, forming part of the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and New York State. (Photo by Buffalo Niagrara Riverkeeper)

The EPA order requires the Buffalo Sewage Authority by April 30, 2012 to submit an approvable Long Term Control Plan that proposes sewer system improvements that ensure combined sewer overflows comply with technology and water quality-based requirements of state and federal law.

The projected cost of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s implementation of an approvable Long Term Control Plan could be as much as $500 million dollars over 15 years, depending on the alternatives selected.

The EPA and the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation, DEC, are encouraging the Buffalo Sewer Authority to incorporate green infrastructure projects such as increased open space, rain barrels and rain gardens, permeable pavements and sidewalks, green roofs and urban trees into its Long Term Control Plan. Using green infrastructure helps reduce the amount of combined sewer overflows by stopping runoff pollution at its source.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority violated its environmental permit issued by the DEC back in 1999, which required it submit its plan to reduce sewage discharges by July 1, 2001.

When the plan was not forthcoming, the DEC reissued and modified the discharge permit, giving the Buffalo Sewer Authority more time to submit its plan.

The plan is supposed to detail how the city would reduce the amount of combined sewer overflow from 52 combined sewer points into the Niagara River and its tributaries.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority submitted a plan in July 2004, which the EPA called “late and inadequate.”

“Sewage Pollution in the Niagara River is degrading water quality and having a direct effect on the quality of people’s lives,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Local fish are inedible and people can’t enjoy recreational water sports or local parks because of sewage odors.”

“Buffalo has made improvements to its combined system in recent years,” acknowledged Enck, “but much more must be done to protect people’s health and water quality.”

New York Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens said, “This order is an important step to improve the water quality of the Niagara River and to help with the economic revitalization of the City of Buffalo.

“We look forward to receiving the Authority’s Long-Term Control Plan to reduce combined sewer overflow discharges. We expect this plan will include green infrastructure projects that will help restore the health of the river.”

Under its current state-issued permit, the Buffalo Sewer Authority discharges from its wastewater treatment plant outfalls and from combined sewer overflow points into the Niagara River, Black Rock Canal, Erie Basin, Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek, Cazenovia Creek and Cornelius Creek.

The EPA order also requires the Buffalo Sewer Authority to develop a financial plan that addresses project, capital and costs and to detail a strategy to meet water quality standards.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority could face financial penalties if it does not comply with the order.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.