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Red Water Raises a Flag in Watervliet


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During our southbound water quality sampling patrol on July 14, 2011, Riverkeeper observed a dry weather discharge at a SPDES permitted outfall on the west bank just north of Congress Street Bridge and the “Rusty Anchor” Restaurant in Watervliet.

The discharge water was deep blood red, though it had no oil sheen and no particular odor. The discharge was running directly into the Hudson. The last rainfall in the area took place the afternoon of the 13th. It was a short but heavy shower.

We contacted DEC Region 4 and relayed our report to an Environmental Conservation Officer and a Region 4 Engineer. DEC began an investigation. We collected a water sample at the discharge location and incubated it to determine its Enterococcus count (degree of sewage contamination).

DEC Region 4 investigators followed up with information that a Watervliet sewer main had a partial blockage, which reduced its capacity. The overflow occurred when a local industry, Norton (a producer of grinding wheels and coated and bonded abrasives) released its morning “batch” of wastewater (permitted by NYS under the sewage treatment plant’s SPDES permit). Normally, Norton’s discharge would go directly to the sewage treatment plant, but because of the existing partial blockage the main backed up and overtopped a CSO weir and defaulted to the Hudson via the outfall #005.

The red color in the discharge is caused by potassium permanganate, which Norton adds to mitigate phenols in its wastewater. When the weir overtopped, raw sewage also overflowed (along with the red Norton wastewater), so the observed discharge also contained untreated sewage.

The Enterococcus count (MPN) in the sample we collected (directly from the discharging pipe) was 17,329 per 100/ml. EPA does not recommend primary contact (swimming) above 61.

Watervliet and the Albany County Sewer District cleared the sewer main blockage and conducted dye tests. Watervliet admits to an “unpermitted discharge” and will file a report to DEC that will be public. The DEC 4 investigation is ongoing. DEC is considering enforcement options.

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