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RvK Uncovers Sewage Release that Spurs Investigation

sewage main break in Tarrytown

Photo courtesy Bard Porchaska
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A failing high-pressure sewer line in Tarrytown is responsible for dumping an estimated 19.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the Hudson River this year. The county owned pipe, which carries sewage from Tarrytown to the wastewater treatment plant in Yonkers, broke in March, releasing 15.1 million gallons of sewage, and again in October, releasing 4.4 million gallons.

NY State and Westchester County environmental and health agencies were notified of the spills. However, residents in the communities where they took place, elected officials, the media, and members of the public out in the water where the sewage was released were not notified. Neither were the students and educators who waded into the contaminated water on October 14th as participants in the DEC-sponsored Day in the Life of the Hudson River program. On that beautiful fall day, sewage contaminated water was still flowing into the Hudson via the unused “Old” Croton Aqueduct, into which sewage started spilling two days prior.

Westchester County has a law requiring public notification of sewage releases, but on March 5th and again on October 12th the county ignored the law. Following Riverkeeper’s investigation and reporting on these massive releases, a third, smaller main break on the same line took place this week. This time, however, Westchester County notified the press, which in turn notified the public. Assurances were given in the press that consistent public notification of accidental releases will be issued by Westchester County in the future. Welcome news!

With minimal effort and expense, all residents of the Hudson Valley can be notified when sewage releases take place in the same way they are notified about bridge closings, dangerous weather or “boil water” alerts. To truly safeguard the public health, these announcements should not be limited to accidental and planned sewage releases. Water Quality alerts should be posted every time and at all locations where it is unsafe for the public to come into contact with a waterway.

Based on Riverkeeper’s multi-year Water Quality Testing Program, we now know that many areas of the Hudson River suffer from chronic sewage contamination in certain locations, as well as chronic stormwater triggered contamination in others. With increasing numbers of people recreating in or near the river, it’s time for our county health departments to test the water in our communities and report those results in a timely manner. Albany can take the lead on this public health issue and pass a Sewage Right to Know Act that will ensure consistent monitoring and reporting across the state.

Let’s stop washing our sewage failures into the Hudson, hoping they will drift away before the public takes notice. Sewage-free waterways are achievable if we want them and awareness of the problem is the first step.

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