EPA approves Buffalo Sewer Authority’s plan to reduce sewage and water pollution in Niagara River

New York — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have approved the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s (BSA) plan to reduce the amount of sewage and stormwater runoff that flow from the city of Buffalo’s combined sewer system. Under the approved plan, the BSA will implement a series of projects that will improve water quality in the Niagara River and its tributaries, including projects that use green infrastructure to soak up and store stormwater that would otherwise increase overflows of raw sewage into local waterways. The BSA has committed to investing $380 million on these projects over 20 years.

“The Buffalo Sewer Authority has shown its commitment to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and improve people’s health and water quality throughout the city,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The incorporation of green infrastructure into the plan will help restore the Niagara River, while building healthier, greener and more sustainable communities.”

“EPA, DEC and BSA have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive Long Term Control Plan to significantly improve water quality and reduce combined sewer overflows to the water bodies in the Buffalo and Niagara River watersheds," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. "This plan is an important step in achieving cleaner, healthier and more vibrant waters in the City of Buffalo, while providing future opportunities for recreational activities for local residents and visitors. DEC applauds BSA for incorporating green infrastructure into the plan to protect the fresh water resources of the Lake Erie water basin and assist in beautifying an urban landscape.”

It is estimated that Buffalo’s combined sewer system contributes over 1.75 billion gallons of combined sewage overflow to the Niagara River and its tributaries each year.

Under a permit issued by the DEC, the BSA discharges from its Bird Island wastewater treatment plant outfalls and from combined sewer overflow points into the Niagara River, Black Rock Canal, Erie Basin, Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek, Cazenovia Creek and Cornelius Creek. The BSA's 1999 permit required it to develop a Long Term Control Plan, to manage its combined sewage. The BSA submitted a Long Term Control Plan in 2004, which was found to be inadequate and not approved.

A March 9, 2012 compliance order issued by the EPA required the BSA to submit an approvable Long Term Control Plan to the DEC that would include sewer system improvements to ensure that combined sewer overflows complied with technology and water quality-based requirements. The legal order also required the BSA to develop a detailed implementation schedule that would take finances into consideration while meeting water quality standards. Both the EPA and the DEC encouraged the BSA to incorporate green infrastructure projects into its plan.

On January 10, 2014, the BSA submitted its final revised Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan to the EPA and the DEC for review and approval. The plan was approved on March 18, 2014. The EPA is now issuing an amended compliance order memorializing the EPA and the DEC’s approvals of the BSA’s Long Term Control Plan and implementation schedule with a 2034 final compliance deadline. The BSA has already invested over $50 million in completed and ongoing construction projects under its approved Long Term Control Plan, including:

  • A $2.8 million pilot project to determine green infrastructure effectiveness related to rain garden/infiltration basins, pervious pavement and house downspout disconnections
  • $1.2 million for green street projects along Carlton Street and Fillmore Avenue to collect flows from these areas and to turn vacant land into green space
  • $7.5 million for demonstration projects to determine how to maximize wastewater and stormwater storage with real time control technology
  • $18 million to construct the Hamburg Drain Floatable Control Facility to control entry of large floating debris into the Niagara River
  • $8 million for a storage project at Smith Street to reduce raw sewage overflows into the Niagara River

In addition to these projects, $93 million will be spent on green infrastructure for between 1,315 and 1,620 acres of impervious surface throughout Buffalo. Projects will include vacant property demolitions, vacant lot modifications to allow for infiltration, pervious pavements, rain gardens, downspout disconnections and rain barrels. The BSA will also invest $41 million in upgrades at its Bird Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to increase the treatment capacity for sewage and stormwater run-off and to ensure that all discharges receive adequate disinfection. Other projects will increase the system’s ability to collect and transport wastewater. The BSA estimates that total costs will be approximately $380 million over 20 years.

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