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$23 million in state grants aim to prevent sewage overflows, protect WNY waters

A Wales forest will grow by a couple hundred acres to protect the Niagara River's water quality miles downstream.

Six miles of Town of Tonawanda sewers will be lined to keep sewage from overflowing into Ellicott Creek and the Niagara River.

Mechanical and computer upgrades will help Buffalo hold back stormwater and sewage from the Niagara River until it can be properly treated.

These are among the projects across Erie County marked for roughly $20 million in state grants to improve water quality.

Others are planned in Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Lancaster.

In all, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has awarded $103 million in grants across the state.

“Access to clean water is critical to the health, safety and economic well-being of our communities,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.

[Review the state's full list of water quality improvement projects]

Western New York will get more than 20 percent of the state funding being spent from Long Island to Chautauqua Lake.

“This money is really a huge blessing,” said West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan.

West Seneca will receive $1.4 million to help prevent stormwater from getting into its sanitary system, which will reduce sewage overflows into area waterways such as Cazenovia Creek. It’s the next step in the town’s ongoing $70 million overhaul of its wastewater system that began in 2012. Since then, $20 million has been spent to reduce the sewage released into creeks and streams and curb flooding.

“We went from 400 calls per year (from residents with sewage problems) to just two or three,” Meegan said.

Cheektowaga and Town of Tonawanda will each receive $5 million, and Sloan will get $4.3 million.

Cheektowaga reports a 75 million-gallon annual reduction in sewage reaching creeks and streams – including Scajaquada Creek – from its ongoing effort to reline its sewers and upgrade wastewater infrastructure.

Scajaquada Creek included among state's most unhealthy watersheds

It’s Cheektowaga's third $5 million grant to improve sewers. The town also took $15 million in no-interest loans to pay for the work.

“Cheektowaga remains committed to doing our part to protect our environment and waterways for future generations,” said Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski. “This grant will go a long way in doing this.”

State Sen. Tim Kennedy said Cheektowaga’s sewers have improved a lot in a short time. Kennedy intervened during a dispute between DEC and Cheektowaga over the state of the town’s sewers in 2015.

“It’s a problem that plagues municipalities across the region," Kennedy said Friday outside Cheektowaga Town Hall. "This is a regional issue that impacts all of us. When that sewage gets into Scajaquada Creek and flows through the various municipalities into Buffalo, it hurts our communities, it hurts our environment.”

Kennedy added: “I know that Cheektowaga is committed to getting the job done. With this funding, it’s clear that the state is in it for the long haul, too.”

Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said $60 million in sewer upgrades have already been done in his town and the $5 million grant will help it improve sewers along Niagara Falls Boulevard as well as in places like Lowell Road and Hampton Parkway as well as the Englewood-Belmont neighborhood.

"It's a challenge, but we know it has to be addressed," Emminger said. "People have to be able to turn on their faucets and flush their toilets without worrying about it."

Besides aiding municipalities with sewer infrastructure projects, the grants also fund protection of source waters.

At Mossy Point Forest in Wales, the Western New York Land Conservancy hopes to add 222 acres to its Kenneglenn Nature Preserve and Hunters Creek Park to create a contiguous 1,100-acre protected source water forest.

"It's like the missing piece in that forest," said Jajean Rose-Burney, the land conservancy's deputy executive director. "From a water quality point of view, protecting a head-water forest like this impacts the water downstream."

The land conservancy will get close to $656,000.

"This is a huge chunk," Rose-Burney said. "Without this we probably wouldn't be able to do this project."

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper received a grant of more than $587,000 allowing it to buy up to 500 acres of land around Eighteen Mile Creek as part of a drinking water protection program for the Niagara River watershed.

"Protecting water at its source is one of the most important things any community can do to ensure clean drinking water and healthy ecosystems," said Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Deputy Executive Director Kerrie Gallo. "This work will support critical lands and local waters in hundreds of acres in our region."

Water quality projects funded outside Erie County include:

• Orleans County: $1.6 million to install ultraviolet disinfection systems in the villages of Medina and Albion.
• Allegany County: $1.1 million, the bulk of which will go to the villages of Bolivar and Wellsville to install ultraviolet disinfection systems.
• Chautauqua County: $439,478 to improve Chautauqua Lake by preventing harmful algal blooms and excessive vegetation.
• Cattaraugus County: $396,607 for salt storage projects to protect wells from contamination in Ashford and Mansfield.

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