Tonawanda News — Legislation that expands the notification requirements for sewage treatment plants across New York state was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, making the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act official.
For years, when discharge was released into waterways, offenders were only required to report it to the the state Department of Environmental Conservation and county health departments. Even then, those requirements were only in place when untreated or partially treated sewage would have a negative influence on shellfish harvesting, swimming or recreational areas, leaving a loop hole for cover-ups.
But Cuomo said New Yorkers have the a right to know when untreated sewage can be found in their neighborhoods as well as progress made on maintaining wastewater plants and pipe lines.
“These new notification requirements will let the general public know when untreated sewage is released in bodies of water, especially swimming beaches and fishing areas,” he said in a statement.
The announcement was lauded by environmental groups, who said sewage has routinely contaminated beaches, waterways and homes, while also crediting members of the state legislature for passing the bill.
“It’s unconscionable to think that a family trip to a beloved beach or fishing spot would put our families at risk to dangerous pathogens that make us sick,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
The law also requires the DEC to issue an annual report on sewage waste from publicly owned facilities, including the volume and duration of the discharge as well as the response time in remedying it.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the legislation is crucial to the stability of state waterways as well as its growing recreational fishing industry.
But Brian Smith, a spokesperson for Citzen’s Campaign, said their is still a massive issue, with 4 billion gallons of treated and untreated sewage flowing into local waterways around Buffalo each year, though he added that having the ability to publicly note how much waste actually affects the local environment will help push the greater issue: Rebuilding a dilapidated infrastructure.
“Our sewage infrastructure across New York is outdated and failing, which is why we have heavy pollution,” he said. “And this is the underlying problem.”
Smith said the benefits of the law for now will at the very least inform the public, with people still swimming, fishing and boating in contaminated areas that hold “dangerous pathogens and sewage.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.