News | April 14, 2014

EPA Approves Buffalo Sewer Authority's Plan To Reduce Sewage And Water Pollution In Niagara River

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have approved the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s plan to reduce the amount of sewage and stormwater run-off that flow from the city of Buffalo’s combined sewer system. Combined sewer systems, which carry sewage from buildings and stormwater from the streets, are overwhelmed during heavy rain and send untreated sewage into local waters. The plan has been incorporated into a legal order issued by the EPA to the Buffalo Sewer Authority. Under the approved plan, the Buffalo Sewer Authority will implement a series of projects that will improve water quality in the Niagara River and its tributaries, including projects that use green infrastructure to soak up and store stormwater that would otherwise increase overflows of raw sewage into local waterways. The Buffalo Sewer Authority has committed to investing $380M on these projects over 20 years.

“The Buffalo Sewer Authority has shown its commitment to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and improve people’s health and water quality throughout the city,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The incorporation of green infrastructure into the plan will help restore the Niagara River, while building healthier, greener and more sustainable communities.”

“EPA, DEC and BSA have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive Long Term Control Plan to significantly improve water quality and reduce combined sewer overflows to the water bodies in the Buffalo and Niagara River watersheds," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. "This plan is an important step in achieving cleaner, healthier and more vibrant waters in the City of Buffalo, while providing future opportunities for recreational activities for local residents and visitors. DEC applauds BSA for incorporating green infrastructure into the plan to protect the fresh water resources of the Lake Erie water basin and assist in beautifying an urban landscape.”

During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, the volume of wastewater in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the plant that receives the wastewater for treatment. When this happens, combined sewer systems discharge excess wastewater containing untreated sewage directly into nearby water bodies. These overflows not only contain stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste, but also toxic pollutants and debris. It is estimated that Buffalo’s combined sewer system contributes over 1.75 billion gallons of combined sewage overflow to the Niagara River and its tributaries each year.

Green infrastructure is an environmentally friendly technique to manage storm water. It uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier, more resilient urban environments. This type of infrastructure can replace more traditional concrete, or “gray,” solutions. Green infrastructure, which includes green roofs, permeable pavement and other surfaces, rain gardens and restored wetlands, mimics nature by soaking up and storing water.

Under a permit issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Buffalo Sewer Authority discharges from its Bird Island wastewater treatment plant outfalls and from combined sewer overflow points into the Niagara River, Black Rock Canal, Erie Basin, Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek, Cazenovia Creek and Cornelius Creek. The Buffalo Sewer Authority's 1999 permit required it to develop a Long Term Control Plan, to manage its combined sewage. The Buffalo Sewer Authority submitted a Long Term Control Plan in 2004, which was found to be inadequate and not approved.

A March 9, 2012 compliance order issued by the EPA required the Buffalo Sewer Authority to submit an approvable Long Term Control Plan to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that would include sewer system improvements to ensure that combined sewer overflows complied with technology and water quality-based requirements. The legal order also required the Buffalo Sewer Authority to develop a detailed implementation schedule that would take finances into consideration while meeting water quality standards. Both the EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation encouraged the Buffalo Sewer Authority to incorporate green infrastructure projects into its plan.

On January 10, 2014, the Buffalo Sewer Authority submitted its final revised Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan to the EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for review and approval. The plan was approved on March 18, 2014. The EPA is now issuing an amended compliance order memorializing the EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s approvals of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s Long Term Control Plan and implementation schedule with a 2034 final compliance deadline. The Buffalo Sewer Authority has already invested over $50M in completed and ongoing construction projects under its approved Long Term Control Plan, including:

  • A $2.8M pilot project to determine green infrastructure effectiveness related to rain garden/infiltration basins, pervious pavement and house downspout disconnections
  • $1.2M for green street projects along Carlton Street and Fillmore Avenue to collect flows from these areas and to turn vacant land into green space
  • $7.5M for demonstration projects to determine how to maximize wastewater and stormwater storage with real time control technology
  • $18M to construct the Hamburg Drain Floatable Control Facility to control entry of large floating debris into the Niagara River
  • $8M for a storage project at Smith Street to reduce raw sewage overflows into the Niagara River

In addition to these projects, $93M will be spent on green infrastructure for between 1,315 and 1,620 acres of impervious surface throughout Buffalo. Projects will include vacant property demolitions, vacant lot modifications to allow for infiltration, pervious pavements, rain gardens, downspout disconnections and rain barrels. The Buffalo Sewer Authority will also invest $41M in upgrades at its Bird Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to increase the treatment capacity for sewage and stormwater run-off and to ensure that all discharges receive adequate disinfection. Other projects will increase the system’s ability to collect and transport wastewater. The Buffalo Sewer Authority estimates that total costs will be approximately $380M over 20 years.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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