Watertown looks to fix sewage discharge problem in wetlands

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Late last year we saw sewage discharged into the Black River. Now the city of Watertown is under fire from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for discharging sewage into wetlands just west of the city.

With high volumes of rainwater and snowmelt, the city’s sewer system gets overwhelmed.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Pat Keenan says that sometimes forces the city to take drastic measures.

“The city of Watertown, they received a notice of violation from the DEC for some illicit discharge from our sanitary sewer system into the Beaver Meadows wetland area,” he said.

The wetlands take up a large area to the west of the city. Keenan says discharging sewage there was a bit of a last resort.

“It’s a last-ditch effort to provide some protection in some areas of the city - the southwest section of the city,” he said.

The issue arises from leaks in the city’s sewage system which allow groundwater to make its way into pipes. Keenan says that since 2020, the city has been working with a group in Syracuse to pinpoint infiltration hotspots.

“So they looked at a total of 11 sub-drainage basins that contribute to the main pipeline,” he said.

So far, they’ve pinpointed 63 hotspots. The city aims to seal those up very soon.

“We have a contract in place. We’ll be starting some work in probably the next month or two,” said Keenan.

He says this has been an ongoing issue for the past couple of decades and the city has already worked to combat overflow by altering pipes.

“All of those things have helped out. They’ve reduced the frequency of overflow events. However, we’re still having issues with it. So again it’s an ongoing process,” he said.

Watertown has until the end of the month to submit a plan to the DEC, Keenan said.