State: Watertown sent 8 million gallons of sewage, rainwater into Black River last month

Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 5:03 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Millions of gallons of sewage have been dumped into the Black River. It wasn’t a leak, an accident, or an emergency. It’s standard operating procedure because of a combination of wet weather and old infrastructure.

“A lot of our system is older systems. The amount of water - it’s just not sized to accept that amount of flow,” said Angel French, chief operator, Watertown Pollution Control Plant.

The plant can handle about 26 million gallons of waste. The flow is monitored on screens.

“They will identify how frequently the pumps are running so we can ensure we are collecting everything we can in the collection,” said French.

But when we get a lot of rain or a quick snow melt, all that water goes into storm drains and flows to the plant too. Combine that with the wastewater and it becomes too much.

The most recent example: when it rained after Watertown got close to 5 feet of snow in November, state data shows Watertown sent close to 8 million gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater into the Black River.

“It will open up, allowing the combined sewer to go out to the Black River,” said French.

The process happens automatically to protect the plant, preventing rooms at the bottom of the facility from becoming submerged.

There is a planned solution - a reworking of Watertown’s storm drainage systems.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Pat Keenan says the city has already set aside $250,000 for the project.

“We have under contract with an engineering firm in Syracuse to conduct a storm sewer master plan. They’re going to create a model of this city system-wide collection system for storm sewer,” he said.

That new plan would divert rainwater from going to the plant and trigger it to dump waste into the river.

“That cumulative amount of that water coming into the system, wherever we can identify spots to remove it, it’s going to be a benefit for that plant,” said Keenan.

The new storm sewer master plan should be completed by the spring of 2023. Then the city will determine the cost of the project.