Millions of gallons of untreated sewage, rainwater discharged into Black and St. Lawrence rivers

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 6:02 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - Millions of gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater have been recently sent into the Black River and the St. Lawrence River.

It’s the combination of warm, wet weather quickly melting all of the Christmas blizzard’s snow and the way Watertown and Ogdensburg are set up to handle stormwater.

When water off the streets goes into the storm drains, it combines with sewage from homes. Water treatment plants can’t handle all of it and, to keep plants from becoming submerged, the cities are dumping the untreated mix into the rivers.

The state permits them to do so.

State data shows more than 9.1 million gallons went into the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and January 4. The site of the discharge is east of the Patterson Street boat launch.

Ogdensburg is undergoing a $40 million upgrade at its water treatment plant. Among other things, it’ll increase capacity.

Interim City Manager Andrea Smith says that upgrade will help with overflows, but it won’t eliminate them.

In Watertown, millions of gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater were discharged into the Black River. The state recorded the following discharges:

  • December 30: 6.6 million gallons
  • December 31: 1.5 million gallons
  • January 4: 2.3 million gallons

Down river from Watertown, the mayor of Dexter doesn’t like what the city is sending his way.

“They can say it’s diluted. Well, it’s diluted but it’s polluted too,” said Mayor James R. Eves.

After the Christmas blizzard and fast warm-up which melted the snow, all that water combined with household waste Became too much for the city of Watertown’s wastewater treatment plant to handle.

To protect the plant, state data shows millions of gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater were discharged into the black river.

“Anybody on the river, any municipality should be notified when it is dumped and what had happened,” said Eves. “You’re not helping the health of people that are using this area. Boy, you get a bad name like that. All of the sudden they’ll go someplace else.”

Now that things have cooled off, people are spending less time in the river itself. That said, they’re still fishing year-round. Eves tells us that mixed with sewage discharge could be a point of concern.

“We’ve got one of the best fisheries anywhere up this side of the lake. If they’re going to continue dumping this stuff in, we need to know so we can prepare the people that live here,” he said.

The public can sign up for alerts from New York state and get an email when this happens. It’s how we found out about it.

Also, the state Department of Environmental Conservation tells us it continues to ensure communities like Watertown and Ogdensburg are in compliance with state rules when it comes to dumping sewage into the water.

The state says it’s making investments to address infrastructure issues.