The DEC’s puzzling fixation on Falls overflows

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

The Niagara Falls Water Board is once again in the crosshairs of the state Department of Environmental Conversation for sewer overflows – a problem that plagues communities across the state.

The Water Board reported three separate sewer overflows to the DEC on Wednesday. A total of 23.8 million gallons of untreated sewage mixed with dirty stormwater gushed into the Lower Niagara Gorge following a rainstorm.

“These continued violations are wholly unacceptable,” the DEC said in a press release.

Water Board officials said the rain overtaxed its sewer system, spewing raw sewage and stormwater into the river.

Problem is, this happens quite often in Western New York and other regions.

An Investigative Post analysis of DEC data shows that 54 wastewater treatment plants across the state reported nearly 300 sewer overflows in just the month of August. One-third of the reports came from 10 Western New York communities – including both the city and town of Tonawanda, West Seneca, Cheektowaga, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and Niagara Falls.

But the DEC isn’t holding press conferences in those communities. Nor is it writing critical press releases about the sewer overflows that pollute Eighteen Mile Creek in Lockport …  the Buffalo River … Ellicott Creek … Two Mile Creek … Cayuga Creek … and Scajaquada Creek.

That’s despite sewer overflows that fouled all of the above in August.

That’s why the DEC’s reaction to the sewer overflows in Niagara Falls is so puzzling.

The state knows sewer overflows happen often in the Niagara Gorge. They’ve known this for many years.

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The Water Board is required to send the DEC annual reports with details on the condition of its sewer system, the repairs it made for that year and the number of sewer overflows. I obtained their two most-recent annual reports through a Freedom of Information law request.

There were 75 sewer overflows into the Gorge in 2016.

Another 78 happened in 2015.

Did the DEC raise a stink then? Nope.

So why now?

That’s a question the DEC refuses to answer.