Last year, billions of gallons of untreated sewage and storm water overflowed into more than 200 waterways in New York, and now the state comptroller is pushing to fix the problem.
According to a recent report from State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, in 2017, there were 807 discharge points where partially or wholly untreated wastewater was released into rivers, streams, estuaries and coastal waters. Most large urban areas are served by municipal sewer systems, which mix storm water with wastewater from homes and businesses.
The combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, are often due to antiquated, overwhelmed sewer systems. As such, DiNapoli said the best solution is to separate the sanitary and storm sewers.
Since a full-scale fix would be costly, DiNapoli said communities would rely on state and federal funding. To guide that funding, he suggested the creation of a New York State Capital Asset and Infrastructure Council, which would allow policymakers to prioritize the most pressing projects, including CSO abatement.
"When billions of gallons of untreated waste spills into New York's waterways, our health, environment, economy and quality of life suffer," DiNapoli said. "State and local governments must remain focused on addressing the challenges of aging infrastructure through continued funding for these priorities, thoughtful capital planning and more sustainable development."
In 2016, the city of Auburn received states funds for sewer overflow upgrades. It was one of 10 CSO communities to get funding to improve the detection and monitoring of combined sewer overflow following the release of 4.3 million gallons of sewage water and materials in the Owasco River.
DiNapoli included Auburn in last week's report, noting that the city's drinking water source, Owasco Lake, was contaminated by harmful algal bloom toxins even after treatment. The cause, he said, was the release of sewage and collected runoff, which increases nutrient density of the water.
"Discharge of raw sewage into New York's lakes and rivers is an ongoing problem, threatening our health, tarnishing our image, and diminishing residents' enjoyment of our waters," DiNapoli said. "While some progress is being made ... much more remains to be done."