Pollution-Prone Plant Along Niagara River Receives U.S. Upgrade Funds

In Recent Times, this Niagara Falls, New York Wastewater Treatment Plant Has Been a Source of Major Spills to Niagara River

A major spill of dark, inky looking waste effluent from Niagara Falls, New York wastewater treatment plant two summers ago, during the height of the tourist season and plainly visible to countless thousands of Falls visitors on both sides of Niagara River. Some witnesses complained of strong odors coming off the waters.

“Niagara Falls residents and waterways have paid the price for outdated and overloaded (wastewater treatment) systems. …. This federal funding will help with protections during the most extreme (weather-related) conditions.”                                                  – Brian Higgins, U.S. Congressman representing the Buffalo/Niagara Falls, New York area.

By Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

Posted July 2nd, 2019

Here’s some news that will hopefully benefit residents on both sides of the Niagara River, and downstream around Lake Ontario/

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is finally providing more than $2.8 million funds in funds to upgrade the problem-plagued Niagara Falls, New York wastewater treatment plant, according to a news release circulated this July 1st by the Buffalo constituency office of one of the area’s leading Democratic members of Congress, Brian Higgins.

The funding comes in the wake of what have been over the past four or five years, some major overflows of pollution from this plant following heavy rains that have overwhelmed its capacity to properly treat it. In at least two or three cases, the overflows left huge patches of dark, inky looking contamination in the waters of the Niagara River just below the Horseshoe and American Falls.

The contamination, following one of the spills two summers ago, continues to work its way downstream in the lower Niagara from the Falls. If any environment agency on either side of the Niagara River bothered to test the waters following any of these spills, we are still waiting for reports on the results.

It is not entirely uncommon for municipal treatment plants with aging infrastructure to overflow into waterways following heavy downpours of rain. It happens from time to time with some of the treatment plants in Niagara, Ontario.

The critical difference with the Niagara Falls, N.Y. plant is that, going back to at least the 1970s, it is also fitted with carbon filtration beds to treated wastewater from some of that city’s chemical manufacturing plants that have had a history of generating waste that, depending on the concentration, can be extremely toxic to humans and wildlife.

So when there is an overflow of untreated wastewater from this plant, the potential impact on life in and around the Niagara River and Lake Ontario has to be a matter of serious concern.

It is far from completely clear, from what news has been released so far, how far $2,853,778 (U.S.) will go on top of funding already committed by government parties in the Niagara Falls, New York area in correcting problems this plant has posed for  waterways like the Niagara River, and for residents in the Niagara Falls, N.Y. area, who  have experienced property damage due  wastewater backups and flooding rains that following extreme rainstorms that are becoming far too  frequent in this era of climate change.

However, any improvements that can be made to this plant and others around the Great Lakes basin is welcome news.

Now here is the news release circulated this July 1st by U.S. Congressman Brian Higgin’s office –

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced a federal grant totaling $2,853,778 to the Niagara Falls Water Board for improvements to the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant.

From left, Niagara Falls (New York) Wastewater Board (NFWB) Vice Chair Renae Kimble, Congressman Brian Higgins, NFWB Executive Director Pat Fama, & Case Cowan with GHD Consulting, announcing funding for plant improvements. Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins

 

The federal funding is provided under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides communities with grants to “eliminate long-term risk to people and property from future disasters.”   

It is estimated that every dollar spent through this program in prevention saves $4 in future damages within a community. 

Higgins said; “There is an immediate need in this community and throughout our country to upgrade older water and sewer infrastructure.  Niagara Falls residents and waterways have paid the price for outdated and overloaded systems.”  This federal funding will help with protections during the most extreme conditions and we will continue our fight for a major federal infrastructure bill that addressed the needs of communities like ours in a comprehensive way.” 

A severe winter storm<https://www.weather.gov/buf/lake1415_stormb.html> during November 17-26, 2014 dumped nearly 7 feet of snow on Western New York in just a few days, followed by a warm-up which led to flooding. 

Congress replenished FEMA Disaster relief funds through Public Law No: 113-235, which passed the House in its final form on Thursday, December 11, 2014 and became law on Tuesday, December 16, 2014.   

President Obama officially declared the disaster on December 22, 2014, making Hazard Mitigation Program assistance available statewide, including the specific funding which has been made available for this project. 

The previous year, on July 19, 2013, a 1-in-100 year rain storm had delivered 3.5 inches of rain within a few hours in the City of Niagara Falls.  This event knocked out the sewer plant for weeks, caused more than $10 million in damage at the sewer plant and resulted in basement and other flooding at 1,100 individual properties in Niagara Falls.   

The project being funded through this grant would prevent that extensive damage to the plant and individual properties in the event of a similar extreme rain event in the future. 

The Niagara Falls Water Board is a public benefit corporation with an annual operating budget of $28.7 million that serves more than 18,400 residential and business accounts in the greater Niagara Falls region.  

The Board previously identified a need for $27 million in water quality improvements and have committed $13.5 million from its own budget toward upgrades. 

Additional state and federal funding has also been committed toward improvements. To read a related story published posted this July 1st by The Buffalo News, click on – https://buffalonews.com/2019/07/01/higgins-announces-2-85-million-in-fema-aid-for-niagara-falls-sewage-plant/ .

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