The Department of Environmental Protection believes the city’s waterways will be safer as a result of two new initiatives. It has completed a venture that will reduce the discharge of untreated wastewater into city’s harbors, while the state Legislature passed a bill Thursday that will give the public the right to know when such pollutants spill into local waters.
Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland said it’s estimated that some 30 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow spills into the city's waters every year when rainwater gets into pipes and takes up sewage capacity.
To combat the problem, the DEP spent the last two years cleaning 29 million pounds of debris from 26 miles of pipes. Strickland said the project will increase flow capacity and reduce the discharge of untreated wastewater by some 100 million gallons.
It’s a small step, but one Strickland said will be supplemented by further projects.
“The programs we have in place already and the commitments we made are taking out 8.3 billion gallons we project,” Strickland said. “That leaves us with a deficit going forward of some 21 billion gallons a year. Over the next five years we’re developing long-term control plans to get that in place.”
In the mean time, when pollutants do find their way to the city’s harbors, the public will be notified now that the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act was passed. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not signed the bill, but once it becomes law it will require the public be notified within four hours of a sewage spill. Department of Environmental Conservation website will broadcast the alerts.
The DEC will also release a stateside Sewage Discharge Report annually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans fall ill annually from contact with sewage in recreational waters.