Niagara Falls Water Board blames infrastructure for latest wastewater dump

Posted at 5:27 AM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-05 11:35:59-04

Another discharge of dark, smelly water into the Niagara River has been reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation Wednesday.

The dump was reported after heavy rains Wednesday afternoon by the Niagara Falls Water Board, currently under investigation by the state for a previous discharge near the Maid of the Mist launch site in July.

The New York DEC released a statement around 9:45 pm, saying the Niagara Falls Water Board is in violation of the state's water quality standards. 

"Late this afternoon, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation responded to a report from the Niagara Falls Water Board of overflows and discharges associated with the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant and associated sewage system.  The discharge occurred at a time of heavy rains in the area.  DEC immediately initiated an investigation and officials observed badly discolored water in the Niagara River -- which clearly constitutes a violation of the State's water quality standards. These continued violations are wholly unacceptable. The NFWB must take immediate corrective measures and DEC will pursue additional enforcement as appropriate as part of our ongoing actions to hold the NFWB accountable and protect water quality. The maximum penalty for violations of the State's water quality standards are $37,500 per day, per violation. DEC will provide additional information as it becomes available."

Less than an hour later at 10:15 p.m. the Niagara Falls Water Board released a response, saying the discharge was not something the treatment facility could control. The board blames aging infrastructure for the discharges into the Niagara River.

On Wednesday, October 4, 2017, a wet weather event occurred in Niagara Falls that resulted in a discharge from the NFWB’s wastewater system. The NFWB discharge was an overflow that resulted from volume levels exceeding existing storage and plant processing capacity. This discharge was immediately reported to DEC officials, pursuant to their recent instructions.

NFWB continues to work to optimize its existing wastewater treatment system, and is committed to providing the best treatment possible using its existing technology.

The board is aware of the DEC’s statement alleging that the resulting discharge violated water quality standards because of its color. The root cause of such overflow occurrences—of which the DEC 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.

While outdated infrastructure and system design limitations impact overall facility capacity during heavy volume periods, extensive efforts do remain underway to identify potential short and long-term solutions to mitigate these existing facility constraints, which in effect cause such wet weather discharge and overflow situations.

From an overall environmental impact mitigation perspective, the NFWB maintains strong support for massive—and overdue—state and federal investment in capital infrastructure improvements at outdated wastewater treatment facilities across the Great Lakes watershed. True, lasting, state-of-the art solutions to the challenges facing aging wastewater treatment systems may be too costly for localities to fund, and will require partnership and participation with state and federal elected officials.

The NFWB remains wholly committed to proper wastewater treatment and the highest quality treatment and distribution of drinking water consistent with public health laws and regulations, as well as the public enjoyment of natural resources, the protection of fish and wildlife, the economic development of the city of Niagara Falls and the general well being of the surrounding area.

The NFWB will continue to provide periodic public and ratepayer updates on overflow and other discharge matters as such information becomes available. Updates will be available at www.NFWB.org.