Blogs > Water Quality > Newburgh must authorize spending to stop sewage overflows

Newburgh must authorize spending to stop sewage overflows

Carol Knudson, aboard Riverkeeper’s patrol boat, grabs a sample of Hudson River water near Newburgh’s waterfront. (Photo by Dan Shapley / Riverkeeper)

The Newburgh City Council recently balked at spending $3.6 million, covered entirely by state and federal grants and loans, to reduce sewage overflows into the Hudson River.

The project, to separate storm and sanitary sewers in a section of the city, would completely eliminate overflows of sewage into the Hudson River from one pipe. This particular Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) pipe is near a dock used by a cruise company, and other on-water recreation, and just north of the waterfront promenade and commercial district. The pipe discharges about 2.3 million gallons of raw sewage and street water runoff per year. Riverkeeper’s testing data frequently shows poor water quality at Newburgh’s waterfront.

By refusing to authorize the project, the city council would effectively authorize the continued discharge of approximately 2.3 million gallons of polluted water from this pipe each year into the Hudson. The council would also put the city at risk of being fined for violating permit conditions that require the city to undertake this project as one key step in the city’s state-approved Long Term Control Plan to reduce sewage overflows by nearly 100 million gallons per year over 15 years. Clean Water Act violations can carry stiff penalties – up to $37,500 per violation, per day. (Any fine is unlikely to be that large, at least initially.)

Specifically, the council needs to authorize a bond issue in order to accept a Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund zero-interest loan. (The city would then be responsible for paying off the loan over time.) The Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan has been the most important source of funding for sewer projects in New York State. Riverkeeper has advocated for the creation of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015 and the Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 to create new grant programs for communities, to supplement and leverage this essential loan fund, and to help communities like Newburgh invest in projects to stop pollution and restore water quality.

In the long campaign to restore Hudson River water quality, this is one battle. There are more than 660 CSOs that discharge to the Hudson River watershed – each designed to allow raw sewage to overflow directly into the Hudson or its tributaries when it rains. Newburgh, with this vote, has the chance to eliminate one of them, doing its part.

The council can reconsider its decision, and vote to approve funding Monday. It should.

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