State’s sewage right to know act is failing

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

New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D) is urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce the sewage right to know act.

Ryan made the announcement on Friday in Buffalo.

The law went into effect and calls for the public to know how much sewage is being discharged into local waterways. Despite that, Investigative Post in June found many of the reports are incomplete.

“No one swims in their toilet,” said Assemblymember Ryan. “We don’t want to swim in waterways that are contaminated.”

Since the law went into effect in May, there have been 252 sewer discharges into the Buffalo River, Niagara River, Scajaquada Creek and Lake Erie. However, only 16 of these reported discharges included the actual volume released into the waterway. The act requires the volume of overflow to be reported.

Combined sewer overflows, where raw sewage and stormwater enter into the same pipe, aren’t reported at all. Ryan said the intent of the law was that combined sewer overflows, which is the system that covers most of Buffalo, would be reported to the public.

The DEC has said that it will only require a sewage plant operator to report combined sewer overflows if the plant has the capability to detect and measure the discharges. Most do not, the DEC said.