Sewage overflows heighten budget debate

An estimated 6.25 billion gallons of sewage overflowed pipes and treatment plants, most going into New York’s waterways, during the state’s most recent fiscal year, according to environmental officials.

The 2,550 separate incidents came from 207 treatment facilities or collection systems statewide. Many were in the greater New York City and Buffalo areas. Some were in the Adirondacks, a few on Lake Champlain.

Nearly all polluted a water body or had the potential. The map in the accompanying report by the Department of Environmental Conservation shows at least eight sewage overflows within the Adirondack Park.

A recent state alert cited 205,400 gallons overflowing the system in Ticonderoga over eight hours on March 22. The discharge was partially treated, without disinfection, and went into the Lachute River.

Rain, runoff and snowmelt were blamed. In an effort to contain it, storm retention basins were used.

Ticonderoga has received about $3 million in grants plus interest-free loans from the state toward its ongoing $13.4 million project to upgrade the town’s wastewater treatment plant and install new drainage to separate stormwater and sanitary sewers.

The primary causes of sewage overflows statewide are rain and snowmelt that infiltrate sanitary sewer systems and overwhelm treatment plants, according to the DEC’s report on the 2017-2018 year.

The problems can be fixed by removing storm water and other illegal connections to the sanitary sewers, separating combined storm and sanitation sewers, sealing defective manholes, and repairing broken pipes, the report said.

One current debate over the proposed state budget for the coming 2019-2020 fiscal year concerns allocation of the Cuomo administration’s doubling of the $2.5 billion for water and sewer upgrades — including $1.5 billion for municipal grants — authorized by law two years ago.

The Cuomo administration proposed spreading the additional $2.5 billion over five years. The state Senate’s budget proposal would allocate the entire amount in the fiscal year that starts April 1, and is backed by environmental groups.

Cuomo, in a radio interview on Monday, noted that the state is looking at a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall that he blames on recently enacted changes to federal tax law.

The administration late last year announced nearly $65 million of economic development funding for northern New York includes several million dollars for municipal sewage upgrades and other measures to help protect Lake Champlain and other Adirondack waters.

Among larger state grant approvals were $2.5 million for the Town of Moriah along the southwestern shore of Lake Champlain to reduce overflows at its sanitary sewer system by constructing some five miles of water collection systems, manholes, siphons and pump stations.

Another $750,000 for Moriah is for replacing some sewer and water mains.

The Town of Crown Point, just south of Moriah, got $1 million to help relocate its wastewater treatment plant, installing new primary treatment and ultraviolet disinfection systems intended to cut its pollution into the lake.

More than $800,000 to the Town of Westport, just north of Moriah, is to upgrade its sewage treatment plant and install an ultraviolet effluent treatment system.

Dannemora, Willsboro, Ticonderoga, Ausable Forks and Saranac Lake were awarded $30,000 each for sewage treatment studies and reports.

The DEC’s most recent annual summary of sewage discharges statewide is online at

Those interested in receiving email alerts of discharges near them or elsewhere across New York can register online at

About Michael Virtanen

Michael Virtanen is a former Explorer staff reporter who also previously worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press and for daily newspapers in Albany, Utica and Amsterdam, N.Y.

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