We’ve extensively covered NYC’s ancient sewage system, and its chronic storm water and sewage overflow problems. Just last week, a fire accident at a treatment center added to the mess as raw sewage started flowing into the Hudson river. The EPA, however, released a report last week explaining exactly what sewage overflow is and why it’s such a problem for New York City, while also providing some possible solutions to handling the problem.
The report explains that many communities “have separate sewer systems for wastewater collection – an independent sewer system that carries sewage from buildings and another for rainwater, also referred to as stormwater.” While the stormwater system sends the extra water straight to lakes and rivers, residential sewage is instead, sent to treatment plants. Some sewage systems, however, are combined and designed to transport sewage, industrial wastewater, and rainwater runoff in the same pipes to treatment plants — and this is where the problem starts.
While most combined sewage system are able to transport all the waste to the treatment plants (where it’s later discharged into a body of water), during times of heavy rain or snow, the sewage system and the treatment plant start to exceed capacity, and then overflow.
The EPA’s report outlines a national strategy to ensure that local governments and agencies can tackle the problem, by focusing on maintaining high water quality standards, and coordinating efforts to control combined sewage overflow (CSO). Ultimately, the success of these two goals will depend on setting specific standards to meet the EPA’s overall health and environmental objectives.
The EPA’s CSO control policy is centered around ensuring that if CSO does occur, it will be mostly as a result of wet weather. However, once it does occur, all wet weather CSO discharge points will be brought into compliance with the technology and water quality based requirements of the Clean Water Act, passed by Congress in the 1970s and later amended in 2000.
Specific actions that the report recommends are proper operation and maintenance of CSO sewage systems and treatment plants, maximum use of the collection system for storage of CSOs, improving sewage flow, eliminating CSO during dry weather, and extra control of floatable and solid materials in CSO. The report also recommends using public services announcements for when overflow occurs – something that NYC is already doing.
New Yorkers are already doing their part in trying to combat CSO as well. Residents in East New York, for example, are focusing on using gardens to fight stormwater runoff. A new project by Seeing Green is also conducting research on the stormwater management benefits of urban farms. Hopefully, this combined effort on both the EPA and everyday concerned citizens will finally address NYC’s stormwater overflow problem.