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DEC: NF Water Board violated water quality standards, faces $37,000 fine per violation

Posted at 10:39 AM, Aug 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-25 18:41:20-04

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the Niagara Falls Water Board violated water quality standards as a result of the August 15th sewer overflow into the Niagara River. 

As a result of the violation, the DEC is directing the Niagara Falls Water Board to provide an evaluation of its wastewater treatment plant and sewage system.

The discharge caused significant discoloration of the river violating state and federal law, according to the DEC.

“New York reserves the right to pursue those who violate water quality standards to protect the public and the environment,” Basil Seggos, DEC Commssioner, said in a statement. “We are directing the Niagara Falls Water Board to provide all of the engineering information and data necessary to determine how and why this violation occurred. DEC will now investigate into all appropriate measures to prevent further violations from happening.”

This notice of violation comes as the DEC continues to investigate the NFWB for a separate discharge into the Niagara River on July 29. An inky, black substance was seen near the Maid of the Mist prompting a public outcry.

Governor Cuomo ordered an investigation and Niagara County officials demanded resignations from all members of the NFWB.

That July discharge was also in violation of state water quality standards due to the discoloration, according to the DEC. No notice of violation was issued because that would be "redundant" due to the ongoing investigation, according to DEC officials.

What makes the July discharge different than the August 15 overflow (and two other overflows on August 4 and August 22) is the cause.

The overflow events occur during strong rain storms when the combined sewer system is inundated with both stormwater and wastewater. A combination of raw sewage and storm water are then automatically released into a waterway to relieve the system.

The July discharge happened during dry weather and the "working theory" according to DEC officials is a tank of pollutants was discharged into the Niagara River by operators at the water treatment plant.

The Niagara Falls Water Board said in a statement Friday it properly reported the overflow event to state officials. Here is a portion of the prepared statement:

"The NFWB is currently in the process of reviewing the violation notice, but can clarify that the root cause of such overflow occurrences—of which the NYSDEC is well aware and has been working with the NFWB on—is 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.

Extensive efforts remain underway by the NFWB, AECOM and other engineering resources to identify potential short and long-term solutions to mitigating the existing facility limitations that cause such discharge and overflow situations along the Niagara River."

The NFWB said it plans to comply with DEC's directions to submit an internal report regarding the July discharge by September 1.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said the city's police department continues to investigate the July discharge alongside the DEC.

"It highlights some of the outdated infrastructure concerns locally," Mayor Dyster explained. "There is a need for a study to look at the wastewater treatment facility to see what changes might be needed to avoid incidents like this in the future."

Officials say penalties associated with the notice issued Friday, for the overflow event on August 15, range up to $37,000 per day, per violation.