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Watchdog Report Leading to Sewer Fix

On October 19, a watchdog observed this coming out of a stormwater pipe, and discharging into the Sing Sing Kill, a tributary of the Hudson River in Ossining:

The discharge from a stormwater outfall, resulting from an illicit connection between the sanitary sewers and stormwater system. (Watchdog photo)

The discharge from a stormwater outfall, resulting from an illicit connection between the sanitary sewers and stormwater system. (Watchdog photo)

This is what raw sewage typically looks like — a milky, grayish water. Raw sewage should not be discharging from a stormwater pipe, but it is well known that illicit cross-connections between the sanitary and storm pipes are common in old communities. One of the tasks of the state’s stormwater regulations (known as MS4 for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) is to investigate and eliminate illicit discharges like these.

One way we all can help clean our waterways it to keep our eyes open for discharges such as these. That’s one of the tasks of the citizen boat brigades that have taken place on the Wallkill River by the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, and on Rondout Creek, and one of the tasks of streamwalks performed by groups such as the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance.

In this case, the watchdog reported his observations to Riverkeeper, and we relayed the report to Westchester County, which operates the sewer plant that treats Ossining’s sewage, and to the Village of Ossining, which owns the pipes. Village of Ossining Department of Public Works responded at Mayor Victoria Gearity’s request, and identified an illicit connection between a private sewer lateral from a local business to the stormwater pipe. The Building Department is now following up with enforcement to correct the problem. (The business may or may not have been aware of the problem before now.)

The leaders of small communities know that Job One is responding to constituents. That’s why potholes get filled promptly: failing to fix them is obvious. Our sewer pipes have been plagued by decades of “potholes” that no one can see, and as a consequence, the overall bill for maintaining and improving New York’s publicly owned wastewater infrastructure was estimated at $36 billion. Riverkeeper and a coalition of organizations will be arguing for increased spending in the next state budget, to build on the success last year of establishing a new $200 million, three year grant program for water infrastructure.

In this case, the water can be protected with minimal public investment, as the privately owned sewer line was identified as the problem. Our thanks go to Village of Ossining, Westchester County — and of course, the watchdog — for protecting the Sing Sing Kill.

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