New Law Requires Public Be Told of Sewage Released

photo: March 2011 filter spill, Larchmont

A new law signed by Governor Cuomo last week requires sewage plants to inform the general public when untreated sewage is released in water bodies, especially swimming beaches and fishing areas. Under the new law, which goes into effect May 1, 2013, within 4 hours of a sewage discharge, all publicly owned  sewage treatment plants and sewer systems will have to notify the public via local news outlets and the website of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Currently, sewage plants notify only certain public officials.   (See our previous coverage.)

An important feature of the new law is that sewage plants must notify the public even after routine sewage releases, such as those permitted by the state during rain storms. According to the environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper, their testing data shows “these types of releases appear to be far more common and important for public health.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that sewage overflows and storm water discharges from municipal sewer systems  create  “a variety of harmful pollutants, including disease-causing organisms, metals and nutrients that threaten our communities’ water quality and can contribute to disease outbreaks, beach and shellfish bed closings, flooding, stream scouring, fishing advisories and basement backups of sewage.” An estimated 1.8 to 3.5 million Americans become ill annually from contact with sewage in recreational waters, according to the EPA.

Coming Up: Local Environmental Film Festival ‘Green Screen’ in March

If you missed the award-winning film Gasland, about hydraulic fracturing, not to worry, you can see it– for free–as part of a newly announced local film festival. From March 3rd through 12th, the Village and Town of Mamaroneck and the Village of Larchmont will host Green Screen, a free film festival of eight environment-themed movies, for grownups and kids. Each screening will be followed with a featured speaker and a Q & A session on the topic. The featured speaker for the Gasland screening scheduled for Sunday, March 11th will be Paul Gallay, President of Riverkeeper. Riverkeeper is  one of the local activist groups fighting to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking–the controversial process of extracting natural gas–in New York State and the reservoirs that supply New Yorkers.