Heavy rains on Wednesday afternoon caused another unplanned discharge from the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant, the State Department of Environmental Conservation reported.
The NY-Alert notification system shows there were three separate reports of wet weather overflows reported by the Niagara Falls Water Board on Wednesday.
- a 15 million gallon discharge of untreated sewage and stormwater from the Falls Street outflow at the base of the American Falls;
- 5 million gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater from its Gorge Pump Station near the Whirlpool area of the Niagara River;
- a weir overflow at its wastewater treatment plant.
In that final report, wastewater operators reported the discharge occurred before it was discovered by wastewater operators.
It was caused by thunderstorms inundating the wastewater system. It stated that filters were "at capacity" and noted that a sediment basin there was "off-line."
It was an issue with a sediment basin there on a Saturday afternoon in late July that led to the dark, smelly discharge into the Niagara River between the American Falls and the Rainbow Bridge that attracted international attention. A report later found that miscommunication between employees led to that dry weather discharge.
Wet weather overflows are caused when too much rain and stormwater exceeds the capacity of the sewage treatment plant to handle it. That necessitates a release of sewage and stormwater into the Niagara River. Discharges during dry weather are rare, however, can occur during maintenance operations at the plant.
Meteorological data shows that a thunderstorm dropped roughly one-half inch of rain over Niagara Falls Wednesday afternoon.
Reports show the discharges occurred about 3 p.m.
In a statement Wednesday night, the DEC said it was notified of Wednesday's discharge by the Niagara Falls Water Board and started an investigation.
The statement noted that DEC officials “observed badly discolored water in the Niagara River – which clearly constitutes a violation of the state’s water quality standards. These continued violations are wholly unacceptable. The NFWB must take immediate corrective measures and DEC will pursue additional enforcement as appropriate.”
Maximum fine for water quality violations is $37,500 a day.
The Water Board, in a statement also issued Wednesday night, noted that it is unable to prevent discharges during heavy rains.
The statement said, “The root cause of such overflow occurrences – of which the DEC is well aware and has been working with the NFWB on – is a direct result of outdated infrastructure and system design limitations that impact overall facility capacity during heavy volume periods. The NFWB also has no way of controlling for color or turbidity with respect to the overflow water during a wet weather event.”
The Water Board added that “extensive efforts do remain underway to identify potential short- and long-term solutions to mitigate these existing facility constraints.”
The Water Board first came under fire last summer, after a discharge blackened the water in the Niagara Gorge. It brought worldwide attention via social media.
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