Two state senators are demanding the Department of Environmental Conservation take aggressive action to address sewer overflows that have contaminated Scajaquada Creek.
Senators Mark Grisanti and Tim Kennedy, whose districts include the creek, called for action Monday after witnessing a repulsive scene that included trash filled creek water, three dead ducks, and a fourth paralyzed and gasping for air in a pool of garbage and sewage.
Grisanti and Kennedy, sickened by what they saw in the creek near Delaware Park’s Hoyt Lake, said they will make it a priority to clean up Scajaquada Creek and advocate for more money to repair antiquated sewer systems throughout the region.
Animal control officers bagged five dead ducks Monday, including the one they rescued that died en route to a wildlife facility. Although the ducks were not tested, the Erie County Health Department informed Kennedy’s staff that the cause is believed to be avian botulism, a dangerous toxin that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of waterfowl in Scajaquada Creek since the 1970s.
“This is just heartbreaking, just seeing a duck stuck in there and not being able to get out and the fact that this water is actually grayish black,” said Valerie Mammoser, an Eden resident who came upon the scene while visiting Delaware Park with her two children.
The senators’ concerns come a week after Investigative Post reported that Buffalo, Cheektowaga and to a lesser degree, Depew, dump more than a half-billion gallons of raw sewage and dirty stormwater into the creek annually.
Both senators criticized the DEC for a lack of diligence.
“This is disgusting,” said Kennedy, a Democrat whose district includes the section of the creek that runs through Cheektowaga.
“It’s disturbing on every single level and it’s time for the Department of Environmental Conservation to step up and to get much more aggressive.”
Grisanti, a Republican who represents the Buffalo stretch of the creek, added: “I’m happy that you’re bringing attention to the problem because it is absolutely disgusting what we just saw here.”
The overflows into the creek occur often—283 times in Cheektowaga alone over 12 months ending this past May. That’s more than any other municipality in the state with a similar sewer system, according to data collected under the Sewer Pollution Right to Know law. In 2013, the town reported to the DEC overflows totalling more than 300 million gallons of raw sewage mixed with dirty stormwater into the creek.
In addition, Buffalo’s sewer system dumps about 270 million gallons of raw sewage into the creek from a single pipe in Forest Lawn Cemetery and Depew spews between 5 million and 10 million gallons each year into the creek.
As a result, the water in some spots of the creek has fecal bacteria readings 20 times higher than what’s considered safe for recreational use.
In addition, five feet of sewage sludge blankets sections of the creek’s bed—a breeding ground for the avian botulism toxin, according to DEC records.
Furthermore, the creek is the only one in the Niagara River watershed deemed unfit for aquatic life, according to DEC impaired waterway records.
Both senators said they didn’t know until now that the sewer overflow problem is this bad, almost a half century after Congress passed major revisions to the Clean Water Act that made most of these overflows illegal.
The cost of upgrading antiquated sewer systems in Western New York is undetermined. Statewide, the pricetag is an estimated $30 billion.
When asked what he would say to people who witnessed the scene Monday in Delaware Park, Buffalo Sewer Authority General Manager David Comerford said: “I’d say we’re working on it. We’re aware of the problem and we will have a solution to it fairly soon.”
However, improvements now on the books will be slow in coming.
While the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed on a $380 million dollar plan to significantly reduce sewage overflows throughout the city, the work is spread over two decades. It could take up to 16 years before all of the work benefiting the Scajaquada is completed. Even with the improvements, the agreement will allow for the continued dumping of up to 52 million gallons a year of sewage and runoff.
Officials in Cheektowaga have yet to fashion a new remedial plan after state environmental officials rejected their last proposal four years ago. Town Supervisor Mary Holtz refused interview requests and left her office minutes before a reporter arrived Monday in an attempt to track her down.
DEC officials also have refused numerous interview requests.
“We’ve got to get the funding to do it and I’m going to make it a priority,” said Grisanti, chairman of the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee. “I made it a priority last year with trying to do $5 billion dollars worth and it just fell on deaf ears.”