Sewage, water pollution in Niagara River to be reduced with approved plan

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NEW YORK, NY, April 14, 2014 -- The Buffalo Sewer Authority's (Authority) plan to reduce the amount of sewage and stormwater runoff that flow from the city of Buffalo, N.Y.'s combined sewer system has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The plan has been incorporated into a legal order issued by the EPA to the Buffalo Sewer Authority. Under the approved plan, the Authority will implement a series of projects that will improve water quality in the Niagara River and its tributaries, including projects that use green infrastructure to soak up and store stormwater that would otherwise increase overflows of raw sewage into local waterways. The Authority has committed to investing $380 million on these projects over 20 years.

Combined sewer systems (CSS), which carry sewage from buildings and stormwater from the streets, are overwhelmed during heavy rain and send untreated sewage into local waters. During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, the volume of wastewater in a CSS can exceed the capacity of the plant that receives the wastewater for treatment. When this happens, CSSs discharge excess wastewater containing untreated sewage directly into nearby water bodies. These overflows not only contain stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste but also toxic pollutants and debris. It is estimated that Buffalo's CSS contributes over 1.75 billion gallons of combined sewage overflows (CSO) to the Niagara River and its tributaries each year.

Under a permit issued by the DEC, the Authority discharges from its Bird Island wastewater treatment plant outfalls and from CSO points into the Niagara River, Black Rock Canal, Erie Basin, Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek, Cazenovia Creek, and Cornelius Creek. Its 1999 permit required it to develop a Long Term Control Plan to manage its combined sewage. Further, the Authority submitted a Long Term Control Plan in 2004, which was found to be inadequate and not approved.

A March 9, 2012, a compliance order issued by the EPA required the Authority to submit an approvable Long Term Control Plan to the DEC that would include sewer system improvements to ensure that CSOs complied with technology and water quality-based requirements. The legal order also required the Authority to develop a detailed implementation schedule that would take finances into consideration while meeting water quality standards. Both the EPA and the DEC encouraged the Authority to incorporate green infrastructure projects into its plan.

On January 10, 2014, the Authority submitted its final revised Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan to the EPA and the DEC for review and approval. The plan was approved on March 18, 2014. The EPA is now issuing an amended compliance order memorializing its and DEC's approvals of the Authority's Long Term Control Plan and implementation schedule with a 2034 final compliance deadline. The Authority has already invested over $50 million in completed and ongoing construction projects under its approved Long Term Control Plan.

In addition to these projects, $93 million will be spent on green infrastructure for between 1,315 and 1,620 acres of impervious surface throughout Buffalo. Projects will include vacant property demolitions, vacant lot modifications to allow for infiltration, pervious pavements, rain gardens, downspout disconnections and rain barrels. The Authority will also invest $41 million in upgrades at its Bird Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to increase the treatment capacity for sewage and stormwater runoff and to ensure that all discharges receive adequate disinfection. Other projects will increase the system's ability to collect and transport wastewater. The Authority estimates that total costs will be approximately $380 million over 20 years.

See also: "Green infrastructure to be focus of NY conference co-hosted by EPA, University at Buffalo"

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