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Schumer seeks billions for wastewater systems

Sanitary sewers in Western New York work fairly well, except when it rains. When that happens, combined sanitary and storm systems send millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes basin.

To help fix this problem with older treatment plants, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday he is supporting legislation that would infuse billions into municipal wastewater systems.

Schumer said he is sponsoring the Senate companion of a House-passed bill, the Water Quality Investment Act, that would increase federal grants to local systems. He said he is also backing a bill that would provide $14 billion in loans for wastewater treatment.

Citing a 2005 report by Citizens for the Environment, Schumer said there are 10 combined sanitary/storm systems in Western New York, with 127 outflows into the Great Lakes watershed.

The worst offender is in Niagara Falls. Built in 1977, and retrofitted in 1983, the plant still lets sewage bypass treatment even during what the Citizens report said were "minor rain events." Needing $107,162,000 in new construction, the Falls plant was rated "D-" in effectiveness by the report.

The largest plant in the region, the Buffalo Sewer Authority facility on Squaw Island, was not rated.

Schumer said that federal funding for wastewater treatment has decreased 55 percent in the last 35 years. A survey by the American Society of Civil Engineers showing the state has $20.4 billion in unmet wastewater infrastructure needs, he said.

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