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Storm water soon to become a pollution priority Clean Water Act requires municipalities to monitor and investigate discharges

Believe it or not, some people still dump used motor oil down the sewer.

"They just don't realize it goes directly into waterways," said Robbyn Drake of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

By next January, 40 municipalities in Erie and Niagara counties must have laws in place that prohibit such illicit discharges. They also will be detecting and investigating the discharges and enforcing their laws preventing pollution.

It's a requirement of the Clean Water Act that the federal government has charged states with enforcing and New York State has delegated to local governments.

And while storm water drainage is not something average Western New Yorkers think about often, eventually they will feel the effects of the new regulations.

"This is going to cost municipalities to take on this program," said Thomas Hersey Jr., pollution prevention coordinator for Erie County's Department of Environment and Planning.

How much more is a guess at this point.

James Cornelius is a truck driver for the Wheatfield Highway Department and chairman of the Western New York Storm Water Coalition. He has added drainage inspections and keeping records for the initiative to his town duties and says right now the Highway Department has absorbed the cost. But inspectors will need training on how to take water samples, and detecting the source of pollution might generate extra costs.

"There is no answer," Cornelius said when asked how much the regulations will end up costing. "We're just getting into this."

Municipalities could set up fees for their required inspections of construction sites.

Most of the local municipalities joined the coalition to help design and implement their management plans. Erie County took the leadership role to coordinate the coalition, which has won about $1 million in grants for special projects.

The Village of Orchard Park, wary of unfunded mandates, did not join the coalition. Mayor John Wilson thinks the state is heavy-handed in its storm water regulations, particularly since communities with lower population densities don't have the same requirements.

"I don't think the program is going to achieve what they want it to achieve," he said. "They're just avoiding the cost of what they should do."

The goal is to eliminate pollution from soil, animal waste, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, grease and debris that rain and melting snow wash into streams, rivers and lakes.

Municipalities have to map and regularly inspect every "outfall" where ditches and storm sewer pipes empty into streams and waterways. The number is staggering: 5,700 in the affected communities in the two counties. Mapping the outfalls was one of the undertakings of the coalition.

Local residents are starting to see the effects of the public outreach requirement as towns distribute more information about storm water runoff.

The coalition also has teamed with Riverkeeper, a private group dedicated to keeping local rivers clean. The group has started painting white notices on the streets in front of sewer drains stating "No Dumping" and listing the waterway getting the flow from the drain.

"Storm water is one of the major sources of pollution," said Riverkeeper's Drake, who is program director for its RiverWatch program.

"We do need the public. The more eyes are out there watching for water quality, the better," said Hersey.


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