Campaigns & Cases > Stop Polluters > Sewage Contamination > Sewage Right to Know Law

Sewage Right to Know Law

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 must produce a statewide Sewage Discharge Report each year that reports 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.

Even with this broad community backing, however, DEC was not meeting the requirements of the law by notifying the public. Riverkeeper took action and, supported by partners, sued the city. In a landmark victory, the Supreme Court of Queens County directed New York City to notify the public of all combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges within four hours, as required by the law. Despite DEP’s initial resistance, citing costs, the court emphasized the risks to human health of insufficient notifications. This ruling reinforces transparency and empowers the public with vital environmental information.

This law, which went 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.

Learn more about the passage of the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law.

Public Hearing on the Need for Notification

  • Environmental Conservation Committee HearingTestimony to NYS Senate 10/14/11

  • What makes a strong Notification LawBest Practices

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