In 2012 the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law was passed in the New York State Senate and Assembly and was signed into law. This law gives the public the right to know when raw or partially treated sewage is discharged into New York waters, allowing the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to dangerous sewage pollution.
The law requires public notification within four hours of a sewage discharge. Notification should happen via local news outlets and the website of the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In addition, the DEC will produce a statewide Sewage Discharge Report each year that will report annual discharges and remedial responses taken.
The public provided overwhelming support for passage of this important legislation. Nearly 20,000 letters were sent to elected officials and over 43,000 signatures were collected in support of the public’s right to know.
This law, which goes into effect May 2013, requires notification by publicly-owned wastewater (sewage) treatment plants and publicly-owned delivery systems (pipes and pump stations). Riverkeeper would like to see this law expanded to include privately-owned wastewater treatment plants and delivery systems in the near future.
To provide truly comprehensive public notification, Riverkeeper wants this law expanded to include a listing of locations that suffer from chronic sewage pollution that is not the result of point-source discharges. In order to document and report on chronic pollution conditions, water quality monitoring needs to take place.
Public Hearing on the Need for Notification
Effective sewage notification laws require:
1) Frequent water quality monitoring and predictive modeling
2) Spill and CSO monitoring
3) Timely and consistent public notification
4) Public Health Agency involvement
6) Annual reporting
Types of Sewage Discharges
Many Sewage Right to Know laws only address accidental releases from infrastructure failures and planned releases for infrastructure repairs. In New York State Riverkeeper is calling for a SRTK law that will address both of those, as well as wet weather releases and notification at sites that suffer from chronic sewage contamination.
All forms of sewage contamination should trigger public notification:
1) Chronic – locations where water quality is always impaired
2) Wet Weather Related – from combined sewer overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and contaminated groundwater
3) Accidental – such as a sewer main break or pump station failure
4) Planned – sewage bypasses for infrastructure repairs