News Feature | February 8, 2019

Untreated Wastewater Spoiling New York's Waters

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Well-known New York waterways such as the Hudson River, Susquehanna River, and even Niagara Falls are taking on untreated sewage at an alarming rate, thanks to increasingly heavy rains and outdated infrastructure.

Most recently, the Hudson took on an estimated 2.1 million gallons in 12 hours from a single outfall in Troy, according to the Times Union.

The City of Binghamton was forced to discharge more than 600 million gallons into the Susquehanna over a period of five months late last year, reported the Times Leader.

And perhaps most shocking — at least to the tourists on-hand — was the 3-million-gallon plume that contaminated the pristine waters of Niagara Falls.

“Water darkened, and the odor of feces permeated mist from the falls, according to dozens of reports from visitors aboard the tour boat that day,” Press Connects recited recently.

Though the incident occurred in the summer of 2017, its causes — a combination of outdated equipment and human error at the local wastewater treatment plant — have been pervasive throughout New York and seem likely to only continue.

“More than 6.5 billion gallons of sewage spewed from antiquated sewer systems into New York waterways on 1,900 occasions between April 2017 and March 2018, according to a report from the state comptroller’s office,” per Press Connects. “The problem is only getting worse as upgrades fail to keep up with deteriorating systems and climate change triggers more flooding.”

The root of the problem is known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). These occur when wastewater conveyance systems combine stormwater, industrial wastewater, and sewage into a single stream en route to the wastewater treatment plant; when these combined flows reach a critical mass, due to excessive stormwater flooding or other causes, the overflow is sent into natural water bodies.

“Overflows can occur at any of 807 designated release points in New York state designed as safeguards for bad weather, clogged pipes, system maintenance problems or human errors,” according to the Daily American. “The problem is compounded by municipal and private drain systems now designed to capture wastewater not only from kitchen sinks and toilets, but growing numbers of washing machines, backyard pools, car washes and more.”

It would appear the only surefire way to avoid CSOs from polluting the otherwise healthy, and sometimes pristine, waters of New York would be a full update of the state’s nearby wastewater systems. An expensive proposition no doubt, but one that may have to move forward sooner or later.

To read more about how wastewater systems deal with CSOs, visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.