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Environmentalists Want More Information More Quickly On Sewage Pollution

eutrophication&hypoxia, flickr

Two environmental groups are calling on New York State officials to better implement a sewage pollution notification law. State officials, meanwhile, say they are implementing the law in phases.

Riverkeeper and Citizens Campaign for the Environment are calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to fully implement a law passed during the 2012 legislative session. Tracy Brown is a water quality advocate for Westchester-based Riverkeeper.

Brown contends the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in August of 2012, calls for incident reporting of combined sewer overflows, and reporting this information in an easily accessible way to the public.

She says an advisory should go out, just to be cautious, and stay in effect for 24-48 hours.

A DEC spokeswoman says the first component of the law went into effect on May 1 by which publicly owned treatment works and sewer systems must notify DEC and the state Health Department of all raw or partially treated discharges within of two hours of when they occur. The law requires DEC to provide general public notice only for “…discharges that may present a threat to public health considering the potential for exposure and other relevant factors.”

Brown notes the Hudson River is majorly impacted, with combined sewer overflow systems in the Capital District communities of Albany, Cohoes, Green Island, Rensselaer, Troy, and Watervliet.. There are also such systems in Hudson, Catskill, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Yonkers.

She hopes the Act will be fully implemented by the 2014 swimming season. The DEC spokeswoman says a second component of the law requires publicly owned treatment works and sewer systems to notify the public directly when discharges occur. DEC is developing regulations and evaluating computerized notification systems for this portion of the law. She says one that looks promising is the NYALERT system. DEC plans to release the draft regulations this fall for public comment.

Currently, information on discharges received from public wastewater systems is available on a DEC web page. DEC also has a web page for the location of combined sewer overflows.  Riverkeeper’s Brown alleges the information presented is often not timely and lacks critical detail such as the quantity of sewage that overflowed. The DEC spokeswoman says the agency will prepare an annual report of discharges, including the total number, the volume and duration of such discharges and the remedial responses, if any.

Information on discharges received from public wastewater systems is available on the Sewage Discharge Reports web page of the DEC at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/90321.html

Also, DEC has provided information about the location of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and where the CSO outfalls are into the state's waterbodies. DEC has developed a web page called "CSO Wet Weather Advisory" at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/88736.html

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