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DEC announces final sewage pollution right to know regulations

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Tue, Jun 14th 2016 11:35 am

New statewide regulations make it easier for municipalities to notify the public on sewage discharges

DEC accepting applications through Aug. 26 for $500,000 in grants to assist municipalities in reporting sewage overflows

New York state has finalized regulations needed to implement the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos announced Monday. This regulation makes it easier for municipalities to notify the public of any sewage discharges in their surrounding areas.

"These much-needed regulations will help protect public health and the environment, and also provide important information to residents in a timely manner," Seggos said. "Under this regulation, municipalities will use the statewide NY-Alert system to notify the public of sewage discharges. DEC encourages all New Yorkers to sign up for the NY Alerts and use the information when planning to head out on the water this summer."

Under the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, publicly owned treatment works and publicly owned sewer systems are required to notify DEC within two hours of a sewage discharge. Through the NY-Alert system, municipalities will make the information available to the general public and neighboring municipalities. Alerts are available via text messages, emails and/or telephone calls, to keep residents informed about sewage overflows. The new funding available will help municipalities comply with this law.

DEC partnered with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to enhance the electronic NY-Alert notification system so that reporting is free of charge to municipalities and the media, and the broadcasting of sewage spill alerts is rapidly available. NY-Alert is used by New York agencies and municipalities for public safety messaging.

State Sen. Tom O'Mara, environmental conservation committee chair, said, "The Senate has strongly supported funding to put in place the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act without imposing another unfunded, state-imposed mandate on local governments. I have appreciated the department's ongoing cooperation to develop this NY-Alert notification system in this way. It will ensure convenient, timely public access to this vital information and minimize the expense to our local municipalities."

Assemblyman Steven Englebright, environmental conservation committee chair, said, "Prompt public notification of sewage discharge events, including through the statewide NY-Alert system, will help ensure that citizens have the information needed to limit recreational uses and activities such as swimming, fishing and diving wherever the sewage spill has taken place."

In addition to the regulations, DEC announced it is accepting applications from municipalities for the Sewage Pollution Right to Know CSO grant. Through this grant program, $500,000 is available to assist communities with the detection, monitoring and reporting of combined sewer overflows to enhance compliance with the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act. Individual grants of up to $50,000 will be provided, and the deadline to submit applications has been extended until Aug. 26. 

Through the final regulations, DEC is now requiring municipalities to report all wet weather CSO discharges in their community. This grant program is designed to help those communities comply with the new requirement.

Joe Fiegl, president of the New York Water Environment Association, said, "Water resource recovery (née wastewater) utilities and their operations staff work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect water quality and public health. With these goals in mind, NYWEA will continue to work with the DEC to assist operators implementing the public notification protocols in these regulations."

Gerry Geist, executive director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, said, "We are pleased that the DEC has established a way for towns to comply with the Sewage Pollution Right to Know law at little to no cost through the NY-Alert System and grant program."

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "The announcement today represents significant progress towards informing the public about potential harm from sewage spills. People want and need real-time information on water quality issues so they can make smart decisions about where to fish, swim and recreate. New Yorkers love our waterways and we deserve to know they are safe and healthy. Congratulations to the DEC, who has worked diligently to establish this critical program."

Dan Shapley, water quality program manager at Riverkeeper, said, "The more people understand how frequently pollution still affects the waters where we boat, swim and fish, the more they will demand action to improve water quality. Our own monitoring data, gathered in partnership with dozens of community partners at 325 locations monthly, shows that the Hudson River and the creeks that feed it too often fail to meet federal guidelines for safe swimming. This law is an important step toward making them safe, and we thank the Department of Environmental Conservation for implementing it."

"People want and need to know when there is sewage in their waterways. Now that the NY-Alert system is publishing all sewage overflows in NY, alongside Amber alerts and other emergency notifications, we hope local news and radio outlets will broadcast this information in the interest of public health," said Tracy Brown, director of western sound programs for Save the Sound. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, Save the Sound thanks the DEC for the terrific job they have done in getting this program up and running."

The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act builds on the aggressive actions taken by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to protect the water quality in New York. Recently, Cuomo announced $75 million in grants through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015 to support 45 drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvement projects throughout the state. The funding will leverage more than $400 million in total project costs to improve infrastructure and is expected to save taxpayers over $284 million through a 59 percent reduction in municipal costs. This year's state budget increased funding for the WIIA to $400 million over the next two years.

Regulation-related documents can be found on DEC's website at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/101977.html. Information about the Sewage Pollution Right to Know grant program is also available on DEC's website at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/105337.html. For instructions on how to sign up for alerts, visit DEC's webpage at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/90315.html.

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