October 19, 2020

Sewer overflow problems

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli notes that at least 20 percent of the publicly-owned sewer systems in New York state were not reporting overflow events or registered with the electronic notification system (NY-Alert) that tracks those events, potentially putting the public at risk, according to an audit of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation DEC] released on October 19, 2020.

Two laws related to wastewater discharges protect New York’s natural resources and the health of its residents: the 2013 Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, which requires public reporting of sewage discharges; and the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) program, which controls permitted discharges into public waterways.

The Right to Know Act requires publicly owned water treatment works and publicly owned sewer facilities to report untreated and partially treated sewage discharges to DEC and the local health department within two hours of discovery and to notify the public and nearby municipalities within four hours of discovery. Exposure to untreated sewage can cause serious illnesses such as dysentery, hepatitis, cholera and cryptosporidiosis, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Auditors found that documentation supporting when overflows occurred varied by facility but included automated emails, phone calls, and text messages from the facilities’ monitoring systems or time-stamped screenshots of the monitoring system dashboard, and logbook entries. Some facilities were unable to provide time-stamped documentation. Due to these limitations, auditors could not verify the timeliness of 37 percent of the events. Of the other events, 18 percent were not reported within two hours and 10 percent were not reported within four hours, as required.

DEC officials generally agreed with the recommendations and indicated actions they would take to implement them. Their full comments are included in the report posted on the Internet at https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/state-agencies/audits/pdf/sga-2021-19s54.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.


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