News > News > Water Quality > Riverkeeper & clean water advocates testify on need for Sewage Notification at NYS Senate Hearing

Riverkeeper & clean water advocates testify on need for Sewage Notification at NYS Senate Hearing

Swimmers 1.3 ml north of sewage release point

People swimming in sewage-contaminated Hudson River water on 7/21/11, the 2nd day of the 3-day NYC sewage release
View more images on our Flickr site

New Yorkers are unaware of the frequency, volume and location of sewage discharged into the waters where we swim, paddle, boat and fish. With hundreds of releases a year, discharging billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into our waterways, New York needs a public notification system that will protect the public health and support safe recreation for everyone.

In five years of testing, Riverkeeper’s patrol boat found Hudson River water unsafe for swimming 21% of the time we tested. Too often, our monthly water quality emails were the only public notification of these unsafe conditions.

At the invitation of Senators Mark Grisanti and Adriano Espaillat, Riverkeeper testified before the New York State Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation on Friday, October 14, 2011 in support of a proposed state law that would require public notification of sewage discharges. We were joined by clean water activists from across New York State who support our call for a “Sewage Right to Know Law.”

See video of full testimony (4 hours).

Susan Cleaver, a freelance journalist and photographer from Goshen, NY, shared accounts of chronic sewage overflows in her community. “I have witnessed a child playing next to a manhole with a ‘sewage eruption’ in a city street that was surrounded with feminine products. He was innocently playing with his toy boat in the sewage-laden water shooting out of the manhole. I’ve seen discharges into streams that have developed what appears to be a ‘shelf’ of bacteria along the stream for days without anyone ever notifying the public that the sewer treatment plant was failing and the water was ‘unfit’ to be swimming, playing or kayaking in. Shouldn’t parents, individuals and our children at least have the opportunity to have the knowledge that there is a possible health threat before entering out waters? Is it fair that they are kept in the dark?”

Scott Bochner, a clean water activist from Long Beach, Long Island, brought a petition with signatures from 2,000 Nassau County residents supporting a public notification law. Mr. Bochner expressed his frustration with the lack of notification on unsafe water conditions and the double standard applied to government and private citizens. “I am in the private sector and run a business. We don’t work like this. If something is wrong we fix it. If I took a barrel of sludge and dumped it into Reynolds Channel – I would be fined, forced to pay for the clean up, thrown in jail and the public would be notified of a spill. Shouldn’t the same apply to the government?”

Several residents and elected officials from Rockland County submitted testimony including Chris Sanders, Mayor of Piermont, where Riverkeeper’s water quality data has inspired community action to solve local sewage contamination issues. “You can’t change what you don’t measure and I think it’s critically important that we continue to measure in a consistent and timely manner because that information will allow us to continue to improve the health of the Hudson River and its tributaries and to improve the health and economics benefits that the Hudson provides to our residents.” Mayor Sanders went on to say, “we need to establish measuring protocols and provide an avenue for constant communication and this Sewage Right to Know legislation is the perfect place to start.”

Tracy Brown, Water Quality program consultant at Riverkeeper, testified that “a Sewage Right to Know law is not a new idea or an expensive proposition. Similar public notification laws already exist in more than a dozen other states. The infrastructure to test for water quality and to provide public notification is already in place in New York. Through news reports and web postings we already know what the weather will be, if the ozone levels will be high on a given day and where the traffic jams are at any given moment. Unsafe water quality can and should be added to the list of daily notifications we have come to expect and rely on.”

Representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also testified. The agencies acknowledged the need for improved public notification of unsafe water quality conditions in the city, along the Hudson and across the state.

Riverkeeper expects Sewage Right to Know legislation to be introduced in the State Senate and the Assembly this year. In the meantime, we’ll continue our water quality testing program, and continue doing our part to notify the public about unsafe conditions that we document. And we will continue to build our clean water constituency in the Hudson Valley and beyond working in collaboration with the six other Waterkeepers in New York State as well as other NGO partners and community activists.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this effort to date by signing our petition and submitting testimony! There will be many more opportunities to participate in and support this campaign in the coming months so stay tuned.

Learn more about Sewage Right to Know Legislation

Sign our online petition in support of this law

Sign up to receive email updates on this campaign (select “Water Quality” as interest)

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
Become a Member