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Sewage dumping doesn’t pay, but citizen testing does

Citizens Help Leeds Address Local Sewer Needs.

The Catskill Hamlet of Leeds, in Greene County, is making progress on their goal to connect with municipal sewer lines with the help of citizen samplers. Since as far back as 2008, when foul odors started an investigation into sewage releases into the Catskill Creek at Leeds, there has been local interest in discontinuing the use of septic systems and eliminating all illicit sewage discharges into the Creek.

Map courtesy of Wikimedia, KMusser, National Atlas

In an effort to further that goal, the Village of Catskill contacted the Catskill Watershed Awareness Project, a citizen group committed to protecting and restoring Catskill Creek and its watershed. In turn those citizens contacted Riverkeeper and asked to collaborate on a sewage pollution study on the Creek.

In the summer of 2011, with training, technical support and sampling supplies from Riverkeeper, the citizens started sampling at five locations on Catskill Creek. The data they gathered confirmed that there was a discharge of sewage pollution from a pipe at the Old Stone Bridge in Leeds. The Entero counts at that location hit the top of our sampling scale, >2,420 per 100ml, every time it was tested in 2011 and again in April and May of 2012. (The EPA guideline for safe swimming is a maximum count of 61 Entero per 100ml.)

The Old Stone Bridge in Leeds

Photo courtesy of Rich Wiebke

The Catskill Watershed Awareness Project, led by Liz LoGiudice, shared the data with local officials and concerned citizens. Riverkeeper shared the data with the DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI).

In April 2012, the BECI busted a landlord for illegally pumping sewage from a three-unit rental property at 1114 Main Street, in Leeds, into a nearby storm drain that flowed into Catskill Creek a quarter mile away at the Leeds Stone Bridge. This month that landlord, James P. Sheerin, of Ardsley, pleaded guilty to “discharging wastewater to the waters of the state,” a Class E Felony. In a plea bargain deal the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, Sheerin was fined $15,000, and is required to repair his onsite septic system. This bust shocked many in the community where the Creek is valued as a source of recreation and beauty.

“Catskill Creek is a treasured waterway for all the communities it runs through” said LoGuidice. “Our watershed group is committed to preserving and protecting the creek in collaboration with those communities.”

In the meantime the community has made steady progress towards their goal of connecting Leeds with the municipal sewer system in Jefferson Heights. In December the DEC awarded a $30,000 grant to the community to cover engineering costs for the project. The full project cost is estimated to be $8.69 million.

Learn more about Catskill Creek and the work of the Catskill Watershed Awareness Project on their Facebook page.

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