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State gives $13.5 million to improve Niagara Falls' sewage plant

The aging Niagara Falls wastewater plant will get $13.5 million more in state aid to help pay for needed improvements to protect the environment.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the state aid Wednesday.

It accounts for about half of what the Niagara Falls Water Board will spend to upgrade the plant. The plant came under intense scrutiny from Cuomo and state regulators in July 2017 after a black, smelly discharge emerged from the plant's tunnel and darkened water at the base of the American Falls. The discharge shocked tourists and grabbed global headlines.

The Water Board, which oversees operations of the plant, will spend $13.5 million of its own money on projects at its Buffalo Avenue treatment plant. Officials have said there are $27 million worth of immediate needs to improve water quality.

“Protecting water quality and our natural resources is essential to the health of our residents and the future growth of our communities,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These investments will help the Niagara Falls Water Board modernize its aging water infrastructure and prevent future pollution of one our state’s most treasured waterways.”

Some of the improvements include upgrades to the plant's primary treatment systems and equipment as well as in its sedimentation basin. The Gorge Pumping Station north of the Rainbow Bridge will also be rehabilitated. Officials said the funds will also be allocated toward optimizing disinfectants used for treatment, upgrading its dewatering system and completing other critical repairs to the plant's utility systems.

"The improvement projects announced today will help to ensure cleaner, more efficient operations at our wastewater treatment plant for many years to come," said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

The disgusting sludge release on July 29, 2017 was the most noticeable but far from the biggest sewage release into area waterways. (Courtesy of Rainbow Air Inc.)

The Water Board is under an agreed-upon order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fix inadequacies at the plant causing sewage discharges to the Niagara River near the falls. It finalized those arrangements last December.

A DEC investigation revealed the July 2017 discharge resulted from excessive accumulation of sludge at the plant as well as operator error and lack of training. Additional discolored discharges over the ensuing months resulted from sewage overflows during times of heavy rain.

State officials said this past July that the Water Board had successfully met its obligations under the terms and schedule of the consent order. It noted that no dark-colored sewage has been reported since October 2017.

Some of the early measures used to reduce pollution from the plant included repairs to sludge processing equipment, improved sludge handling procedures and staff training.

"DEC will continue to oversee the Niagara Falls Water Board's efforts to advance these projects as directed and improve the quality and reliability of its wastewater treatment plant and collection system," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

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