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Many Sewage Spills Would Go Unreported Under Proposed DEC Rules

PHOTO: Every year billions of gallons of raw sewage overflow into New York lakes and rivers, and a new DEC proposal may not require all overflow incidents to be reported. Photo courtesy New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection.
PHOTO: Every year billions of gallons of raw sewage overflow into New York lakes and rivers, and a new DEC proposal may not require all overflow incidents to be reported. Photo courtesy New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection.
August 4, 2015

NEW YORK – Environmentalists are raising a stink over a loophole in proposed regulations for reporting overflowing sewage systems in New York state.

Every year, heavy rains cause billions of gallons of bacteria-laden raw sewage to overflow from sewer systems into lakes and rivers across the state.

Elizabeth Moran, Water and Natural Resources Associate at Environmental Advocates of New York, says the rules proposed by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would not require reporting from systems that don't have meters or computer models to measure or estimate the size of a spill.

"That's a lot that would potentially go without reporting," she says. "We've seen already that if it's not clearly defined by DEC that they have to report, they won't."

Moran says a DEC spreadsheet shows some counties have not reported a single spill since the Sewage Right to Know law was passed in 2013. The Environmental Advocates group wants the DEC to require reporting of all overflows, and a stronger system for notifying the public.

According to the DEC, more than 900 New York communities have systems susceptible to discharging untreated sewage during rainstorms. Moran says such spills are suspected in at least one death.

"In Buffalo, there was a resident who went swimming in a lake where there had recently been a sewage overflow, and he actually died from a bacterial contamination," says Moran.

She says the Sewage Right to Know law is an important step in protecting public health, but the real solution lies in upgrading New York's antiquated drinking-water and sewage infrastructure.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY