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Water Today Title January 27, 2021

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Update 2018/9/2


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by Cori Marshall

Niagara Falls

On August 17 the New York State government released an alert stating that a wastewater treatment facility would release untreated water directly into the Niagara River. The reason the facility had to do so was that it had reached capacity. The release occurred over a five hour period beginning at 6 PM.

In an open letter on August 23, Ontario NDP MPP for Niagara Falls, Wayne Gates, asked the current Ontario Minister of the Environment Rod Phillips as well as other governmental instances to take action on the matter.

"The issue has been ongoing far too long and continues to threaten the health of our beloved Niagara River, [...] the continued damaging of our River is nothing short of an environmental catastrophe."

Wayne Gates, MPP Niagara Falls

WaterToday had the opportunity to speak with Gates about the letter and the sewage being released into the Lower Niagara River.

The situation did not begin two weeks ago, Gates explained that he got involved in the issue in August 2017, after a previous sewage release caught international media attention. At the time Gates said that he wrote a letter to the Minister of the Environment. Gate added that the Minister "didn't take the matter seriously, he didn't respond for three weeks," even though it was front page news.

Following the 2017 incident, the Governor of New York made moves to ensure that a similar situation would not repeat itself in the future.

"New York has spent $25 million doing upgrades to the facilities, [...] the reality is they need to spend a lot more money to upgrade their facility, its old, it doesn't have the technology," Gates said.

On our side Gates said we need to work with multiple levels of government "to work with our partners in the States and say this is unacceptable." Gates said that the New York State Alert regarding the release stated very clearly "that this is affecting the fish and the parks."

Gates tied the spill in with climate change and that the storm that caused the New York State facility to release the untreated wastewater and stormwater in the Niagara could become more frequent.

"Climate change is real, it is happening," Gates said, "they blame [the release] on once in a century type of storm, and as we're seeing once in a century storms are becoming the norm."

"We have to take a tougher stance to make sure we're not using our waterways as sewers by dumping raw sewage into them."

Wayne Gates, MPP Niagara Falls

Gates was aware of Canadian municipalities dumping sewage into waterways, notably in the Saint-Lawrence River. Not only do we have to put pressure on different levels of government to get New York to upgrade its facility, "we have to tell our municipalities [in Canada] to stop dumping raw sewage into our waterways, it's unacceptable," Gates said.

The MPP's efforts have spurred a reaction south of the border. Last week, the Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB) Chairman, Daniel T. O'Callaghan, responded to Gates with an open letter of his own.

In his letter, O'Callaghan said that he shared Gates' "concern regarding the water quality in the Niagara River and are working hard to reduce sewer overflows." The NFWB is doing "everything possible to improve water quality in the Niagara River."

"As part of our effort to act as good stewards of of the Niagara River, we would also like to draw your attention to sewage overflows emanating from Ontario, Canada."

Daniel T. O'Callaghan, Chairman Niagara Falls Water Board

O'Callaghan pointed out that "public data on overflows in the Niagara Region of Canada are updated only four times a year, so a direct comparison for that weekend in not publicly obtainable." The Chairman's letter quotes 2017 discharge numbers for Niagara Falls, Ontario at over 834 million litres, while Niagara Falls, New York discharged 945 million litres.

"The scope of the problem is similar, with the biggest difference being that the Canadian discharges are less visible than those of the Water Board because of the locations where they enter the Niagara River."

Daniel T. O'Callaghan, Chairman Niagara Falls Water Board

At the very least this latest overflow incident has sparked cross-border debate regarding water quality in the Niagara Region, though the issue is not unique to the area. Niagara Falls, Ontario receives approximately 14 million visitors a year, and Gates said, "this year could reach 15 million." With the influx of that many tourists annually it's essential to have a hard look at wastewater infrastructure on both sides of the border.


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