NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed the State Department of Environmental Conservation to undertake a “comprehensive investigation” into the discharge of dark, smelly sludge into the Lower Niagara River from the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant on July 29.
At the governor’s direction, the DEC has informed the Niagara Falls Water Board that they must cease any discharges to the sediment basin until the investigation is complete.
The DEC is also instructing the Water Board to evaluate permanent solutions such as requiring automatic shutoff valves. The DEC has directed the Water Board to submit a report on the incident by Sept. 1.
Here is a statement from Gov. Cuomo:
“Earlier this month, I directed the Department of Environmental Conservation to launch a comprehensive investigation into the discharge of black wastewater into the Lower Niagara River which occurred on July 29th. At my direction, DEC has informed the Niagara Falls Water Board that they must cease any discharges from the sediment basin until the investigation is complete. In addition, DEC is instructing the Water Board to evaluate permanent solutions such as requiring automatic shutoff valves. DEC has further directed the Niagara Water Board to submit a report on the incident by September 1, and we expect this investigation to be completed in the coming weeks.”
That official edict comes on the heels of a discharge of untreated sewage into the Lower Niagara Tuesday, the second time in a week the Wastewater Treatment Plant spilled millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Lower Niagara River.
On August 15, about three-million gallons was released. Tuesday night the Niagara Falls Water Board reported more than a million gallons was discharged.
The water board blames heavy rains for both of the spills, effluent from the combined storm and sanitary sewers into the treatment plant was more than the facility could handle and it overflowed.
In a statement, the Water Board said, in part, “the discharge was a result of volume levels exceeding existing capacity.” The overflows were different from the July 29 discharge that was part of the plant’s maintenance.
But other treatment facilities experience the same kinds of overflows, and Congressman Brian Higgins believes the overflow issue comes down to outdated infrastructure, “We are talking about combined sewer overflows which, when we have a heavy rain, they spill over into our waterways.”
Higgins said all of Western New York’s wastewater treatment facilities are older, and combine storm water and sanitary sewage, which is banned in newer treatment plants. The overflows have closed beaches, and in some places affected drinking supplies.
Lawmakers in Washington are calling for a massive overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure to replace aging water and sewer lines, roads and bridges, in the name of public health and safety. Higgins said cities like Niagara Falls and Buffalo are overdue for upgrades.
“We are an older industrial northeastern city. Our infrastructure was put into place 125-130 years ago, and it ages over time, and it has to be replaced and updated.”
Niagara Falls Water Board officials said the overflows were within allowable limits. The DEC has directed the Water Board to submit a report on the July 29 incident by September 1.