Cut to U.S. clean water funds could hurt WNY

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

The House and Senate budget proposal includes a large cut in clean water funding that could threaten dozens of sewer repair projects in Western New York.

Senator Charles Schumer visited Buffalo on Monday to urge Congress to reject the budget proposal to cut 30 percent, or $414 million, from the national Clean Water State Revolving Fund. States tap into this fund to offset the costs of sewer infrastructure improvements. Projects to stem overflows into the Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek and other local waterways could be at risk, he said.

“We can’t afford such a cut to the Clean Water Act, which has always gotten in the past bipartisan support in the Congress,” Schumer said.

Sewer overflows are a big problem here. For example, state data from May 2013 to June 2015 shows that Erie County reports more sanitary sewer overflows than anywhere else upstate. The overflows are often caused by moderate to heavy rain that stresses aging sewer systems.

Sewer improvements are already underfunded, Schumer said, and the need is huge in Western New York. For 2016, Western New York municipalities requested $473 million in funds for 72 projects, but they are competing with other communities statewide for this pot of money. Thirty of those projects are in Erie County. This includes two in Buffalo that total $32 million, which would prevent more than 131 million gallons of sewer overflows in the Buffalo River each year.

“These problems are not going away on their own and they are only going to get more expensive unless we address them now,” said Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka.

To read more of our coverage of Scajaquada Creek and sewer overflows, click here.