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Turning the Tide on the Great Lakes Sewage Crisis

Aug 9, 2010
Press Release

Today environmental, business, and civic leaders urged Congress to fund solutions for the sewage crisis in the Great Lakes region.  Leaders in Buffalo are urging the federal government to boost funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $2.7 billion for fiscal year 2011.   Every year billions of gallons of untreated sewage is dumped into the Great Lakes as detailed in the report from Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Turning the Tide: Investing in Wastewater Infrastructure to Create Jobs and Solve the Sewage Crisis in the Great Lakes.

“The Great Lakes are under siege from sewage overflows,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “This report underscores that we have solutions to keep our beaches open, our people healthy and our economy growing. Inaction, however, will exacerbate a problem that is already very serious.”

 Combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, are an enduring pollution source to the Great Lakes.  Sewage pollution sickens people, forces beach closures, prompts health advisories urging people to stay out of polluted rivers, harms wildlife, and hurts tourism.

“Western New York’s proximity to Lake Erie is one of our greatest assets,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force and strong supporter of an increased federal investment in clean water initiatives.  “Waterfront development and clean water protection efforts naturally go hand in hand.   Clean, fresh water is important to our region’s quality of life and is the key to reaching the enormous economic potential made possible thanks to our position along the water’s edge.”

“America’s water infrastructure crisis is concentrated in the Great Lakes,” said Dereth Glance, Executive Program Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.  “Smart, green, and clean water infrastructure investment at the federal level revitalizes our waterfronts, protects public health and puts people to work.” 

Matthew Driscoll, President of the New York State Facilities Corporation stated:
 "Today's gathering in Buffalo only further highlights the immense need for a sustained federal commitment to our wastewater infrastructure throughout our State, and especially in regions such as the Great Lakes. Replacing and upgrading this infrastructure is crucial in protecting our public health, the environment, and the economic vitality of our communities. Though I am pleased to report that New York's appropriation for wastewater funding tripled from 2009 to 2010, much work still remains to be done and your continued support is imperative in ensuring further investments in clean water funding for years to come. “

The report highlights potential to create jobs and generate economic benefit from investments in traditional and green infrastructure. Every $1 billion invested in wastewater infrastructure, according to sources in the report, creates at least 20,000 jobs.  In addition to economic benefits, stopping sewage overflows is a priority for the regional Great Lakes restoration strategy that provides a 2-to-1 return on investment, according to the Brookings Institution

“Failing infrastructure cannot support a healthy economy, or a healthy population,” said Blaine D. Leonard, P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “For more than a decade, ASCE's Report Card for America's Infrastructure has been calling for increased funding and leadership to protect and improve these critical infrastructure systems. However, the funding gap and the consequence of inaction have continued to grow larger. Today's report from Healing Our Waters should serve as yet another reminder of what's at stake if we do nothing.”

Buffalo is one of five Great Lakes cities profiled in the new report that examines what can be done to curb sewage overflows, safeguard public health and create jobs—while protecting Lake Erie and the entire Great Lakes Basin.  The report profiles the Hamburg Drain, which discharges about 50 combined sewer overflows into the Commercial Slip and Buffalo River every year.   Buffalo received stimulus funds to help address sewage overflows at the Hamburg Drain, however ,  problems with Buffalo’s CSOs are much larger.

Turning the Tide includes case studies of how cities are installing rain gardens, vegetative roofs and pervious pavement to prevent storm water from overwhelming city sewers. 

 Julie O’Neill, Executive Director of the Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER stated:
"Federal funding for water - particularly green sewer solutions - have the potential to literally transform the streets of Buffalo. Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER is working cooperatively with the Buffalo Sewer Authority and local foundations to bring Green Infrastructure programs to Buffalo including downspout disconnection and green streets.  We are excited that sewer solutions can add so much to the revitalization of Buffalo's commercial districts, institutions and neighborhoods.  We hope that federal water funding gets allocated to this critical issue.”
Technology exists to eliminate most sewage overflows in the Great Lakes Basin.  Cities struggle to adequately fund sewage solutions alone, and require sustained federal investment to protect our shared waters.  In 2009, Congress increased funding for our nation’s failing water infrastructure to $2 billion.  This much needed investment must continue as the Great Lakes region faces a steep $23.3 billion shortfall to adequately address the water infrastructure crisis. 
 “The people of Buffalo are ready to move forward and put an end to beach closings and public health advisories,” said Brian Smith, Western New York Program Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We have solutions to stem the tide of sewage pollution. It’s time we use them.”