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NY Sewage Overflows Vastly Underreported

A report recommends that New York invest $800 million per year statewide in the Water Infrastructure Investment Act. (Postdlf/Wikimedia Commons)
A report recommends that New York invest $800 million per year statewide in the Water Infrastructure Investment Act. (Postdlf/Wikimedia Commons)
March 15, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y, - Crumbling infrastructure and rampant underreporting of sewage overflows are endangering public health in New York, according to a new report.

"Tapped Out," released by Environmental Advocates of New York, found huge discrepancies between estimated and reported volumes of raw sewage discharged into state waterways. In New York City alone, said report author Liz Moran, the group's water and natural resources associate, an estimated 28 billion gallons of raw sewage is discharged into New York Harbor every year.

"However," she said, "on the database, New York City only reports a total volume discharge of just over half a million gallons over the course of two years."

In 2012, the state passed the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, but the law has yet to be fully implemented and Moran said reporting remains largely voluntary.

The public-health consequences can be serious. Moran said raw sewage discharges can pollute water with a variety of pathogens, bacteria, heavy metals and nutrients.

"That can lead to things like algal blooms, diarrhea, vomiting, infections and a whole slew of other nasty symptoms you don't want to be exposed to," she said.

The report recommended finalizing the rules on reporting overflows, increasing staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation and making major investments in infrastructure.

According to Moran, the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Watershed Needs Survey found that New York has the greatest documented water infrastructure needs of any state.

"So, we really need the state to step up and invest at least $800 million into water infrastructure funding, annually," she said.

A 2008 DEC report estimated that necessary wastewater infrastructure repairs and upgrades would cost $36 billion over 20 years.

The report is online at eany.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY