Niagara Falls sewage release highlights regional problem

Oct 6, 2017
Originally published on October 6, 2017 3:36 pm

Niagara Falls, N.Y., has a messy problem -- it continues to dump sewage and discolored water downriver from the popular tourist attraction. The most recent incident happened Wednesday afternoon.


New York State said this week’s discharge released an estimated 5 million gallons of sewage into the Niagara River.

State officials say the “badly discolored water” violates its water quality standards, and they want the Niagara Falls Water Board to correct the issue.

"The Niagara Falls Water Board should undertake an engineering assessment to identify short and long term fixes, including costs. The DEC wold have to approve and oversee an changes to the operation to the plant and related facilities," said Sean Mahar DEC public affairs representative.

The discharge came after a thunderstorm. And that’s a common problem in the Great Lakes region. Underground pipes are often overwhelmed by the combination of untreated sewage and storm water.

Board officials issued a statement about changes being made to the system. They're considering long-term solutions, including expanding the capacity of the wastewater treatment facility.

The current waste water treatment plant was built in 1977. Water board executive director Rolfe Porter said it was designed to treat water used by heavy industry. And, now there's a need for a new wastewater treatment plant.

"The heavy industry has basically moved out and we're now dealing with residential inflows so the chemical-physical design of the plant is not the right design for now, we need to go to a biological plant or some combination thereof," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency says 182 communities along the Great Lakes corridor have combined sewer overflow systems that discharge into the Lakes. The agency estimates that 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage was released into the Great Lakes in 2014 alone.

And that’s not counting any discharges from Canada.

In Toronto, it’s an issue that environmental groups have been battling for years. Every time there’s heavy rain, stuff from people’s toilets -- like condoms and tampons -- are found in Lake Ontario.

Krystyn Tully of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has been on the front line of the issue. She says aging infrastructure is also a problem in Toronto.

But, it’s not the only problem.

"Another problem is when the sewer systems were built, they were built to capture sewage for a certain number of people and a lot of the cities have grown," she said. "There's a lot more people living in the city today, than there was 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So, we actually don't physically have the capacity."

Tully says  Toronto has a $2 billion project in place to address infrastructure issues.

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