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DEC cites Falls Water Board for new sewage overflow violation

The Niagara Falls Water Board violated water quality standards last week with a combined sewer overflow into the Niagara River near Niagara Falls, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reported Friday.

DEC officials called for the Water Board "to provide a technical evaluation of its wastewater treatment plant and sewage system, identify short-term measures to improve the operation of wastewater systems and collection systems, and conduct a longer-term evaluation of system upgrades, including the ability to capture and treat increased amounts of wet weather CSO discharges," according to a statement from the agency.

"Even if you have a permit to discharge that doesn't allow you to violate water quality standards," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told The Buffalo News. "One of the most stringent water quality standards is to have no substantial visible contrast in color in the receiving water body."

The Water Board responded with a two-page statement that said the DEC is "well aware" heavy thunderstorms triggered the Aug. 15 overflow.

It was "a direct result of outdated infrastructure and system design limitations that impact overall facility capacity during heavy volume periods.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 board statement said.

Millions of gallons of raw sewage at falls? Blame the rain

On Aug. 15, a release of nearly 3 million gallons by the Niagara Falls Water Board from its Falls Street outfall near the base of the American Falls was severe enough that it did show a different color, DEC officials said.

Niagara Falls could be subject to a $37,500-a-day penalty for the violation, the DEC said. It is not clear if and when that penalty could be levied.

"What is clear to us, and the point of the notice-of-violation today, is that the Water Board has a problem," Seggos said. "The system itself is antiquated and in need of some very significant upgrades."

Niagara Falls already has a long-term control plan to fix its sewage infrastructure, but state environmental officials said upgrades need to happen faster.

DEC told Niagara Falls Water Board to hire firm to investigate sewage discharge

The board said "extensive efforts" are underway to find short-term and long-term solutions to the capacity problems. Its statement said it has spent $8 million in recent years to upgrade its system, including $1 million in the past several months at the wastewater treatment plant.

"Lasting, state-of-the art solutions to the challenges facing aging wastewater treatment systems may be too costly for localities to fund, and will require partnership and participation with state and federal elected officials," the Water Board said.

Friday's announcement about the Aug. 15 release is separate from the dry-weather July 29 incident in Niagara Falls that drew worldwide attention when a smelly, black discharge was made into the river.

A DEC investigation is continuing into that incident at the request of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

In the days following the late July discharge, state officials also pointed to the discoloration as a reason why the Water Board "clearly violated" water quality rules in that event as well, which is part of a larger, more comprehensive probe by state environmental officials.

DEC: Niagara Falls discharge 'clearly violated water quality standards'

The Water Board has a Sept. 1 deadline to file a report to the state about the July 29 release. The board said Friday it is committed to meeting that deadline.

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