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Editorial: Sewage discharges are a stain on Niagara Falls

The folks across the border in Canada must be amazed – make that appalled – at how the environmental gem that is the Niagara River is being defiled.
The river has endured a disgusting series of sewage discharges in recent months.

Worst was the unforgettable image of black sludge from the sewage treatment plant fouling the river. Photos of the stain spread on social media and made the national news. It was an environmental and marketing nightmare.

The governor and state attorney general, among others, are investigating that July 29 sewage release. And now attention is being focused on what has become almost routine: sewage releases into the lower Niagara from the city’s wastewater treatment plant during heavy rainstorms.

On Tuesday 1.1 million gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater was dumped into the river near the base of the American Falls. On Aug. 15, nearly 3 million gallons of untreated sewage and storm water was discharged. Five overflows in July sent more than 125 millions gallons of untreated water in the river, part of the head-spinning 306 million gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater that has been released at that outfall in the past year.

Niagara Falls is unique in its natural beauty, but not in how it handles its waste. As in many communities, stormwater runoff and “sanitary sewage” from sinks and toilets are carried away in the same mains. When heavy rain overwhelms the capacity of the mains, the overflow goes right into the river.

Such overflows are allowed under a state permit whenever the plant gets too much water to process.

But allowable doesn’t make them acceptable. The city needs a long-term plan to eliminate or at least reduce its sewage discharges.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has given the Water Board a Sept. 1 deadline to submit a full report on that infamous stain from July 29, which apparently is unrelated to the periodic sewage overflows.

The agency toured the wastewater plant again the day after the Aug. 15 incident. Perhaps the DEC should consider setting up a satellite office in the plant to monitor the city’s continuing abuse of the Niagara River.

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