Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation that will require publicly owned sewage treatment plants and sewer systems to notify the general public whenever the facility discharges untreated or partially treated sewage.
"New Yorkers have a right to know when potentially harmful, untreated sewage is discharged into waterways in their communities," Governor Cuomo said. "These new notification requirements will let the general public know when untreated sewage is released in water bodies, especially swimming beaches and fishing areas. In addition, this new law will also raise awareness to the need for upgrades and maintenance of our state's wastewater infrastructure. I thank the bill sponsors for their work on this important law."
The 'Sewage Pollution Right to Know' law is designed to protect New Yorkers by increasing awareness when discharges which may affect public health occur, allowing the general public to make informed decisions about fishing, swimming and recreating in affected water ways.
Currently, notification of a discharge is only provided to certain public officials and not the general public. Sewage treatment plants were required to inform the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the local health department only to instances where the discharge of untreated or partially treated sewage may affect shellfish harvesting, swimming or recreational areas. The new law will expand the notification requirements, ensuring that all New Yorkers know when untreated sewage that poses a threat to public health has been discharged in their communities, as well as giving DEC additional information, enabling the agency to focus compliance education and outreach efforts.
The new law also requires DEC to prepare an annual report of discharges of treated or untreated waste from each publicly owned sewage treatment plant and system. The report will contain the total number of discharges, the volume and duration of such discharges, and the remedial responses, if any, to such discharges.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said, "Sewer discharges affect the public's ability to safely swim, fish and recreate. This new law will provide the public with important information about New York's water bodies and further DEC's efforts to make all waterways in the state fishable and swimmable."
Senator Mark Grisanti, Chairman of Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "I am pleased to have sponsored the bill that is now law creating a 'Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act' for all New Yorkers who want to enjoy the many great bodies of water in our state. This law ensures that the water people use for both recreational and commercial activities will not be threatened by bacteria, toxins or chemicals due to the spillage of raw sewage. When accidents do occur prompt notification and swift action for clean-up must happen."
Assembly Member Bob Sweeney, Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, said, "I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing and helping to shape this important public health protection law. Many communities in New York State are served by aging and dilapidated sewage infrastructure. As a result, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage enter into the waters we use to swim, boat, and fish each year. The 'Sewage Pollution Right to Know' law will protect the public from avoidable exposures to sewage in our waterways by requiring that the public be warned if sewage is released. Our waterways are one of New York's great assets and people should be able to fish, boat and swim in them without fear of contamination."
The new law takes effect on May 1, 2013.