Blogs > Boat Blog > Newburgh to reduce combined sewage pollution by nearly 100 million gallons per year

Newburgh to reduce combined sewage pollution by nearly 100 million gallons per year

Carol Knudson of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory grabs a water sample at the public boat launch in the City of Newburgh.

Carol Knudson of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory grabs a water sample at the public boat launch in the City of Newburgh.

In an historic agreement announced today, the City of Newburgh and the Department of Environmental Conservation have agreed on a $39 million plan to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Hudson River from the city by nearly 100 million gallons per year.

The plan will take 15 years to fully implement, and sets the goal of achieving water quality that is safe for swimming in the Hudson River by 2031. That worthy goal follows a precedent set with the Long Term Control Plan negotiated with Riverkeeper’s input to clean up the Capital District’s combined sewer system.

And obviously the less pollution dumped into the Hudson, the better for fish and other wildlife. People are often shocked to learn that in 2016 we still dump raw sewage into our water, but it’s true. Projects like this one help to update the public perception of the river — we move farther from our view of the Hudson as a sewer, and closer to the view of it as an extraordinary community of life.

The agreement highlights the critical need for the state and federal governments to invest in wastewater infrastructure, along with our communities. The City of Newburgh’s plan will benefit all those who visit the city’s waterfront and enjoy the Hudson River, and it shouldn’t be expected to make these investments alone. The Governor’s draft budget includes an additional $50 million in each of the next two years, on top of an increase to the Environmental Protection Fund, for communities like Newburgh to invest in water infrastructure. We hope to continue working with the Governor and the Legislature to build on these investments to further narrow the gap in available funding for wastewater infrastructure.

Behind New York City, New Jersey and the Capital District, Newburgh’s Long Term Control Plan represents the biggest plan to reduce combined sewage pollution to the Hudson River. Rain causes overflows from the City of Newburgh resulting in an estimated 185 million gallons of raw sewage and polluted streetwater in a typical year. After implementation of the Long Term Control Plan, that will be reduced to roughly 87 million gallons.

We shouldn’t use the Hudson River and Quassaick Creek as a sewer at all. While we wish we could see pollution reduced to zero tomorrow, we recognize that pollution resulting from more than a century of human development won’t be eliminated immediately.

Other positive elements of the plan include the 15-year timeline, which is shorter than originally proposed and will result in significant reductions of pollution in the early years of the project’s implementation; and the use of a process to dechlorinate effluent after it is disinfected to kill some of the pathogens that can cause illness in swimmers or others enjoying the water. When chlorine — a poison that depletes dissolved oxygen fish need to survive — is used as a disinfectant, dechlorination is essential to reduces the risks to fish and wildlife.

The Long Term Control Plan is in addition to the City of Newburgh’s ongoing efforts to identify and eliminate illicit discharges of sewage directly to the Hudson River during dry weather. In November, the city identified and eliminated a decades-old discharge from one neighborhood; the investigation began when Riverkeeper publicized monitoring data showing poor water quality at the city’s boat ramp even in dry weather. The city deserves credit for proactively investigating the problem after we identified it.

Riverkeeper will continue to advocate for upgrades not only to the city’s sewers, but the Town of Newburgh sewer system that is connected to it. Waste from homes and businesses in both the city and part of the town is treated by the wastewater treatment plant that has been jointly invested in by both town and city. The town’s sewage enters the city system in a pipe adjacent to the Quassaick Creek, where Riverkeeper’s partner the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance has identified frequent evidence of fecal contamination. During rain, the city’s sewers become overwhelmed as streetwater flows into the combined sewers; once the city pipes are full, raw sewage from the town and combined streetwater and sewage from the city spills in large volumes near the mouth of the Quassaick Creek at the Hudson River. This one outfall represents half of the current discharge by volume from the city’s sewers, nearly 91 million gallons in a typical year.

Sampling on the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh. Photo by John Gephards, Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance

Sampling on the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh. Photo by John Gephards, Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance

Based on our preliminary estimate, the town waste alone is responsible for as much as 20 million gallons of raw sewage discharge in a typical year–nearly 11% of the total discharge from the city. As the city implements the Long Term Control Plan, there will be fewer overflows, and this volume will be cut roughly by half. But based on our preliminary estimate, in a typical year following completion of the Long Term Control Plan, roughly 48 million gallons of combined streetwater and sewage will still spill into the Quassaick, including 8 million gallons or more of raw sewage discharge originating in the town. (If further expansions of sewage treatment capacity are completed, the total overflow discharge originating from the town could be as high as 17 million gallons in a typical year.)

Stopping this pollution will be necessary to restore the Quassaick Creek. The Creek is being thought of as Newburgh’s “other waterfront”; many have labored to remove garbage and plant trees along its banks, and plans are in motion to improve public access with new parks and trails. Despite its history of abuse, the creek sustains habitat for migratory fish like American eel and river herring. We have to think of the creek as being a community of life — a survivor that should be freed of the sewage pollution that has plagued it for too long.

View of the Hudson Highlands from the water in Newburgh.

View of the Hudson Highlands from the water in Newburgh.

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