News Feature | October 18, 2017

As Discharged Sewage Contaminates Niagara Falls, Outdated Infrastructure Is To Blame

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

Niagara.Reg

Niagara Falls may be best known for its majestic, natural beauty, but this precious resource is having a hard time lately as the area’s wastewater treatment swims upstream against fundamental infrastructure issues.

Niagara Falls’ wastewater treatment plant has been discharging unplanned sewage at an alarming rate lately.

“More wastewater has been discharged into the Niagara River in the latest in a series of overflows since a discharge blackened water near Niagara Falls in view of summer tourists,” reported The Seattle Times, citing the Associated Press, last week.  “After a similar discharge last week, state environmental officials called the recurring issues unacceptable. The state imposed a $500,000 fine for the high-profile late July incident.”

Earlier this month, heavy rains led to an unplanned discharge from the wastewater treatment plants and the NY-Alert notification system showed three separate reports of wet weather overflows. Those included a 15-million-gallon discharge of untreated sewage at the base of the American Falls, a 5-million-gallon sewage discharge near the Whirlpool area of the Niagara River, and an overflow at the wastewater treatment plant itself.

“It was caused by thunderstorms inundating the wastewater system,” The Buffalo News reported. “It stated that filters were ‘at capacity’ and noted that a sediment basin there was ‘off-line.’”

According to a statement from the Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB), the frequent overflows are a result of overlooked wastewater infrastructure needs.

“The statement said, ‘The root cause of such overflow occurrences — of which the [Department of Environmental Conservation] is well aware and has been working with the NFWB on — is a direct result of outdated infrastructure and system design limitations that impact overall facility capacity during heavy volume periods,” per The Buffalo News. “The NFWB also has no way of controlling for color or turbidity with respect to the overflow water during a wet weather event.’”

The statement went on to assure the public that the NFWB is working on potential short- and long-term solutions to solve these problems.

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Image credit: “Niagara Falls," Oscar von Bonsdorff, 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/