WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2010 -- To resolve long-standing problems with unpermitted sewer overflows, the city of Oswego, N.Y., will invest an estimated $87 million in improvements to its west side sewer system, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was also a partner in the agreement.
The city's west side sewer system, which serves approximately 10,000 people, is designed to transport the city's sewage to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment prior to discharge into Lake Ontario. The system includes both combined and sanitary components. The combined system collects and transports household sewage and industrial wastewater, as well as rainwater and street runoff, using the same pipes, whereas the sanitary component uses a separate set of pipes to collect and transport sewage and wastewater only. Overflows from the city's collection system discharge raw sewage directly to water bodies and can be a major source of water pollution.
Heavy rainfall or snowmelt often overwhelms the capacity of the system, resulting in sewer overflows that discharge contaminated stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste to local waterways. Untreated discharges often carry bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants which can seriously degrade water quality, kill aquatic life and threaten public health. Raw sewage can cause a number of diseases in contaminated areas, including dysentery and gastroenteritis.
The improvements to the city's sewer system, to be implemented under the settlement lodged in federal court in Syracuse, N.Y., will significantly reduce the number of sewer overflows. The city also will pay a penalty of $99,000. The settlement resolves claims against the city by both the United States and the state of New York.
Under the settlement, the city has agreed to undertake a comprehensive, system-wide program that will bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Specific measures include at least 75 percent separation of the combined system into sanitary and stormwater components, in order to prevent high volumes of rainwater from overwhelming the treatment plant, a 50 percent expansion of the west side wastewater treatment plant's treatment capacity, disconnection of catch basins to reduce the inflow of rain water into the existing sanitary sewer system, major improvements to its operation and maintenance program, and sewer financing reforms.
"Today's agreement sets Oswego on a clear path to improve the city's sewer system in order to achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act. The required upgrades will greatly reduce the amount of pollution entering the Oswego River and Lake Ontario and result in a cleaner, safer environment," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
"This legal agreement will significantly reduce raw sewage discharges into Lake Ontario and the Oswego River- two treasured upstate water bodies," said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. "Exposure to untreated sewage is bad for public health, fish, wildlife and water quality. It is imperative that all communities comply with the Clean Water Act and this agreement puts the city of Oswego in a position to do just that. I commend everyone who was involved in this major step toward cleaner water and look forward to working with the city of Oswego to ensure compliance."
The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.