Senate candidate Small releases report, plan for local waterway cleanup

Jul 26, 2016

A candidate for State Senate is releasing a report that suggests Erie County is among the worst polluters of water in all of New York, and it has its aging sewer system to blame. Her report also includes some proposed solutions that would see a mix of state, federal and private dollars put to work to ease the discharge of sewage into potential drinking water sources.

Amber Small, a Buffalo resident who is running for State Senate in the 60th District, hosted a news conference in Delaware Park, where Hoyt Lake is met by Scajaquada Creek. At that time, she released a report which provides both alarming numbers about sewage and her ideas on how to prevent it from polluting the region's waterways.

State Senate candidate Amber Small holds up a jar of water sampled from Scajaquada Creek during a news conference at Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

says the New York Department of Environmental Conservation measured, over a 25-month period, an estimated 57 million gallons of sewage spilled into Western New York waterways. Most of it was the result of Combined Sewer Overflows, or CSOs, caused when storm runoff and other excess flow pushes sewer lines above capacity.

"This means that raw sewage, including human waste, is directly discharged into our drinking supply,' said Small.

She held up a sealed jar filled with water she says was taken not far away. It was filled with sediment and, in Small's words, "particles I don't even want to imagine."

A few yards behind where Small stood, a steady flow of brown water flowed into a passageway beneath the trail leading to the edge of Hoyt Lake, with sludge building at the edge of the creek bank. After a heavy rain earlier in the morning, clouds continued to roll overhead and a breeze brought with it a cooling feeling. But on more than one occasion during the news conference, depending on the wind's direction, a stench could be detected coming off the water.

Sludge gathers as water flows beneath a path adjacent to Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park in Buffalo.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Small's proposals for countering the pollution risk include the use of isolated brownfield sites to hold excess water in times of overflow. She also calls for placing greater priority on funding infrastructure improvements, using a mix of state, federal and private grants.

"Another option we need to look at is the adoption of complete streets initiatives, which include more than just roadways, which include sewer and water upgrades for our communities," she said. "And most importantly, the establishment of a specific municipal bond fund for sewer and water infrastructure upgrades in communities that are impacted by CSOs."

A piece of that funding, she recommends, should come from federal infrastructure dollars earmarked for Western New York. She suggested that sewer and water upgrades should be a top priority for such dollars.

Small's hope is that the recent series of water main breaks and the 'boil water' notice imposed on tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers last week will serve as wakeup calls to the serious problems within the region's water and sewer system.

"This is an issue that I think people don't have a full undersanding of," said Small. "Until we started experiencing these problems recently, it was something that I was not fully aware of, either."