Advocates Focus on Infrastructure Following Sewage Overflow Issue

Four million gallons of sewage poured into the Hudson River before the July Fourth weekend in Albany and Troy, but that isn't why the story is important.

"What made news here is that the cities did not report the overflows as they're supposed to under the law," said Dan Shapley, the water quality program director with Hudson Riverkeeper.

Officials in Albany and Troy say the people who usually report the overflow were on vacation, and under the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, the municipalities now face a fine of up to $37,500 for every day the spills weren't reported.

"This is not a unique situation as far as a sewer spill, and I think that's the bigger story here," said Nature Conservancy of NY Policy Director Jessica Ottney Mahar.

She says spills need to be reported on time, but the narrative should stay on the fact the overflow happens with such regularity.

"So now it's time that we focus on that, rather than spending time pointing the finger at something like this," she said.

Cities across New York use combination systems where the sewage and the rain go into the same pipes.

"So as you can imagine when it rains heavily that pipe gets overwhelmed," said Ottney Mahar. "There's too much, and then they leak, and that's when you have a sewage overflow."

Shapley says what happened in Albany and Troy was happening all over the state, but it took those two cities longer to tell the public about the problem.

"So the condition was unfortunately not unique to the Capital District or to Albany and Troy," Shapley said. "The problem that we had in those two communities in this one instance was they failed to report them."

Both the Nature Conservancy and Hudson Riverkeeper hope for a future where the story will be the sewage overflow itself, because that would mean they're not happening every time it rains. Advocates say that's part of the $70 billion needed in New York for water and sewer infrastructure.

Both Albany and Troy say they are making changes in their reporting procedures to prevent this from happening again while the DEC investigates.

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