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Cuomo: DEC should take aggressive actions to hold Niagara Falls Water Board accountable, protect water quality

Press Release/Submitted

Thu, Sep 14th 2017 09:00 pm
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday directed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take a series of actions to hold the Niagara Falls Water Board accountable and protect water quality. DEC is assessing a $50,000 penalty and issuing a consent order that would prohibit the board from making any black water discharges, restrict the board from making any discharges from the sediment basins at the plant without DEC approval, and other provisions to prevent further violations of New York water quality standards.
This comes a result of the investigation ordered by Cuomo following the July 29 incident that found the Niagara Falls Water Board has not properly maintained equipment nor adequately trained workers, and generally failed to follow appropriate protocols. DEC's consent order with the water board will address these deficiencies to prevent further water quality violations.
"Polluting one of world's greatest wonders is completely intolerable and unacceptable, and this action today will hold the Niagara Falls Water Board accountable, require them to clean up their practices and protect the economically important Niagara River," Cuomo said. "I am directing DEC to continue to closely monitor operations of the plant to guarantee immediate steps are taken to prevent future violations." 
After the July 29 discharge, DEC ordered the water board to provide a full report on the causes of the illegal discharge. Based on the findings, Cuomo is directing DEC to bring legal action against the Niagara Falls Water Board for violations of water quality standards due to its mismanagement of the plant's operations, which lead to the human errors that caused the discharge.
The consent order DEC proposed will:
  • Prohibit the board from making any black water discharges;
  • Restrict the board from making any discharges from Sedimentation Basin 5 at the plant without DEC approval;
  • Require the board to update all operational protocols and policies to prevent violations of water quality standards;
  • Require the board to re-train all plaint employees and update all training materials to ensure the new operational protocols are followed; and
  • Require the board to pay a $50,000 penalty as a result of the unlawful discharges.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Through the governor's leadership, DEC continues to closely oversee practices at the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant to ensure no violations of water quality standards continue. Once executed, this agreement will solidify important steps to improve plant operations to prevent future discharges from occurring, and we urge the Niagara Falls Water Board to quickly sign this order." 
DEC will continue its investigation and oversight of operations at the Niagara Falls Water Board Wastewater Treatment Plant, its collection system and combined sewer overflows, including the CSO on Aug. 15. Appropriate additional measures may be warranted to assure the plant and system is properly operated and maintained. 
DEC will also require the water board to submit a detailed description and summary regarding its reporting and notification of CSOs and sanitary sewer overflows. Penalties associated with the notice of violation range up to $37,500 per day, per violation, as well as injunctive relief.
Cuomo is making historic investments to safeguard water quality. The Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 invests a record $2.5 billion in critical water infrastructure across New York. This investment in drinking water infrastructure, wastewater infrastructure, and source water protection actions will enhance community health and wellness, safeguard the state's most important water resources, and create jobs. Funding for projects will prioritize regional and watershed level solutions, and incentivize consolidation and sharing of water and wastewater services.
The NFWB was made aware of various public comments offered by Cuomo and the DEC on Thursday, and offered this statement:
"As the NFWB has not yet had the opportunity to review the draft consent order referenced by Gov. Cuomo, we cannot therefore comment on its contents; however, the board does look forward to assessing the documents and will subsequently work with the DEC to improve plant performance and prevent any re-occurrences.
"We have always been and remain committed to doing everything possible with the technology in place to safeguard the natural beauty of the Niagara River and to comply with and exceed wherever possible all environmental rules, standards and permits.
"The NFWB joins Gov. Cuomo and the DEC in a united desire to preserve the natural wonder of Niagara Falls. We will continue to work with DEC in the coming weeks and months, and expect to engage in ongoing, collaborative dialogue regarding the terms of the draft consent order to maximize the environmental benefits of any improvements made." 
The NFWB will continue to provide periodic public and ratepayer updates on overflow and other discharge matters as such information becomes available. Updates will be available at www.NFWB.org.

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