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New York’s First Sewage Release Alert

The first automated same-day public notification under the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law happened today, as the Town of Colonie reported a 10 gallon per minute raw sewage spill that lasted over two hours, and affected a tributary of the Mohawk River near its confluence with the Hudson.

In January, the Department of Environmental Conservation completed work on the latest phase of implementing the law, which passed in 2012 at the urging of Riverkeeper and a coalition of environmental groups. The milestone makes use of the NY-Alert system to notify the public about reportable releases of raw and partially treated sewage.

There is still work to be done. The law requires public notification within four hours of a spill being detected, and this alert went out five hours after the reported time of the spill. Last week, a spill estimated at 1,000 gallons of raw sewage in the Hudson River at 725 West 135th Street in Manhattan was reported to the DEC, but not to the public via NY-Alert. As importantly, the signup process for the public to receive these sewage release alerts is clunky and needs improvement to be effective.

But the alert today shows how and why a workable system is important, and how much progress has already been made. Two years ago, this spill would not have been reported publicly. Two months ago, it would not have been reported on the same day it happened. Today, it was reported within hours by text, phone call or e-mail directly to users of NY-Alert who have signed up to receive this kind of notification.

See this blog post for guidance about signing up for sewage release alerts.

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