Dexter, Black River fishing affected by sewage discharge upriver

Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 4:54 PM EDT
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DEXTER, New York (WWNY) - According to the state, one of Watertown’s latest discharges into the Black River totaled 1.1 million gallons of rainwater and sewage. Downriver in Dexter, the mayor says he saw and smelled it.

“The odor is tremendous unless the wind is blowing away from it. Sometimes the debris in the water, you can see it,” said Mayor James Eves.

The issue stems from the city of Watertown’s sewage system which gets overwhelmed by heavy rains. The rainwater mixes with sewer water and the city dumps it, legally, into the Black River so that the wastewater treatment plant isn’t flooded and damaged.

People who want to be notified of discharges can sign up for alerts. Dexter’s mayor thinks the notifications to municipalities should be automatic.

“Anybody along the river from where it starts from Lake Ontario, especially every municipality should be told this,” said Eves.

In Dexter, fishing is a big deal. One local angler says he thinks that discharge can be detrimental to the experience.

“If they’re capable of stopping, they should stop. It does seem to affect the fishing here after it rains,” said Brad Erlenbach.

Erlenbach is an avid angler but the fish he catches tend to get a stay of execution. Due to the water’s quality, affected by several other variables, the state Department of Environmental Conservation only recommends eating one fish from the Black River a month. Zero for sensitive populations.

Knowing the sewage discharges happen there doesn’t help.

“It’s strictly been catch and release for me. Fish I pull out of here I’d be very cautious about eating. I’ve never eaten a fish out of here because of that,” said Erlenbach.

Watertown’s discharges are permitted by the DEC and it’s not happening just in Watertown. Other places like Clayton and Ogdensburg have had similar issues.