It is troubling and disheartening to observe so many of New York States waterways in a state of impairment or decline, stated Sarah Meyland, CCE Executive Director. Our waterways, Long Island Sound, the South Shore Estuary, the Great Lakes, and the Finger Lakes, should be thriving economic, tourist and commercial centers. Instead, many are too polluted for fishing, swimming or other forms of commercial and recreational use, Meyland added.
Among the sources of beach water pollution, Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) and Nonpoint Source Pollution, commonly referred to as polluted runoff, were documented as major sources of poor beach water quality in urban areas of New York State from Long Island Sound to the Great Lakes.
SSOs occur when raw sewage escapes from the sewer lines before it reaches a treatment facility. The sewage generally escapes when there is heavy rainfall causing an overload of the sanitary sewer collection systems. This is especially a problem for systems with excess infiltration of rainfall through the ground into leaking sewer pipes and with large inflows from sources such as roof drains connected
directly to sewers. As flows exceed the capacity of the system, sewers overflow and discharge untreated sewage from manholes, breaks in collection pipes and into basements threatening public health and environmental quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 1.8 million and 3.5 million cases per year of swimming-related illnesses are caused by SSOs.
The problems associated with sewage overflow are especially apparent in the Western New York area. Aging, dilapidated sewage infrastructure along Lake Erie has contributed to many beach closings and
further deterioration of the lake. Places like Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg have been plagued with numerous beach closings in recent years. Also, sewage is one of the contributing factors to the oxygen deprivation causing the dead zone that engulfs as much as two-thirds of Lake Erie by the end of the summer.
One New York State Beach, Harbor Island in Mamaroneck, was closed to swimming permanently for three years, including the reporting year for this publication, 2002. Sewage overflows in Mamaroneck were documented in Sewage in the Suburbs, a report released by Citizens Environmental Research Institute in 2002. Since the release of Sewage in the Suburbs, the Village of Mamaroneck has commenced the process of instituting a Capacity, Maintenance, Operations and Management (CMOM) program to assist in curtailing the overflowing sewage. Harbor Island Beach recently reopened, and then closed again due to a significant sewage overflow. Until its recent reopening, Harbor Island Beach was the longest permanent beach closure in New York State history.
Long Islanders have recently been witnesses of the large scale damage that is caused when raw sewage overflows into coastal waters. Last month State officials closed Port Jefferson Harbor to shellfishing after approximately 600,000 gallons of sewage escaped into the waterway prior to treatment. Shellfishers were directed by State authorities to release their catches due to the contamination caused by the sewage, which carries a host of bacteria and pathogens that can cause serious illness.
Local municipalities, New York State and the federal government must make significant investments in sewer system upgrades in order to reduce the amount of raw sewage that is escaping into our environment, stated CCE Program Coordinator Brian Smith. Otherwise, more and more beaches will be continuously closed to people and the number of waterways fit for human use will decline, continued Smith.
Non-point source pollution is another major source of water quality impairment, which closed New York State beaches in 2002. Non-point source pollution is created when pollution from the ground such as pesticides, motor oil, gasoline, pet waste and other pollution is washed into nearby waterways during rain events. This runoff pollution has been documented to be the leading source of water quality impairment in many New York State waterways. The pollution not only makes waterways unsafe for swimming, but closes waterways subject to runoff for commercial activities such as shellfishing. The damage caused by runoff pollution is exacerbated by its ability to make algae grow at excessive rates. The algae then dies and rots, a process which depletes oxygen from the water causing a condition called hypoxia, which is deadly to fish and other marine organisms.
In March 2003 the Federal Government, under the Clean Water Act, began requiring states to plan for the reduction of non point source pollution. The program, called the Phase II Rule, require municipalities across the state to create a plan for the mitigation and control of stormwater runoff. The regulations also require large-scale construction projects to account for runoff pollution created on site during activities.
The successful implementation of the Clean Water Acts Phase II stormwater program will allow municipalities to document the extent of non point source pollution generated in their community, and take action to prevent further damage to local waterways, and therefore help keep beaches safe for swimming Meyland concluded.
In order to get a copy of Testing the Waters: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, visit www.nrdc.org.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) is a statewide, not-for-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization working for the protection of the natural environment and public health.
For more information contact:
August 13, 2003, 10 A.M Sarah Meyland, Executive Director (516) 390-7150 Brian Smith, Program Coordinator W(716)831-3206 H(716) 694-2202
Beach Water Quality Report Shows Pollution at New York State Beaches Widespread: Untreated Sewage and Polluted Runoff Named as Culprits
New York Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) today released a national report documenting beach closures and the sources of pollution that cause unsafe bathing conditions. The annual report, entitled Testing the Waters: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches was prepared by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a national environmental advocacy organization.