Toll Free 1-877-257-9777
News

Sewage Overflow Pollutes Hudson, Vexes New Jersey

Dec 28, 2015

 State is taking steps to mitigate old infrastructure that releases mix of untreated sewage and storm water during heavy rains

The Hudson River is much cleaner than it used to be, but antiquated infrastructure still contaminates the waters between New York City and New Jersey with untreated sewage and storm water during heavy rainfalls.

A kayak trip can be a hard sell for Noelle Thurlow, who runs a small water-sports business off Pier 13 in Hoboken. She tries to allay customers’ fears about pollution in the water and notes the vast improvement from 30 years ago. Except when it rains.

“Anytime there’s a heavy rainfall, the water quality is poor,” said Ms. Thurlow, who helps measure pollution levels as a volunteer for the environmental nonprofit The River Project.

After rainstorms, the water off Pier 13 tests positive for elevated levels of enterococci, a bacterium found in human feces, Ms. Thurlow said. The contamination comes from overflows from the combined sewer systems of Hoboken and nearby cities.

Combined sewer systems, a relic of the country’s earliest urban plumbing, use a single underground pipe to transport both sewage and storm water. Twenty-one cities and towns in New Jersey have them, releasing an estimated 23 billion gallons of untreated wastewater each year from 213 locations across the state, according to New Jersey environmental officials.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been pushing states to minimize such sewer overflows since 1994, but New Jersey has been slow to tackle the problem, federal statistics show.

The EPA has issued 859 permits to combined-sewer-system operators in 772 municipalities across the country. The permits require system operators to develop long-term plans to reduce overflows, a yearslong task that has already been completed for 790 of the 859 permits. New Jersey’s sewer-system operators are just now starting work on long-term mitigation plans.

This past summer the state Department of Environmental Protection began issuing permits that require treatment plants to reduce overflows. One of the first visible results from the department’s new regulations will be public signs, which must be posted by Jan. 1 near discharge locations so people know the site is vulnerable to contamination.

The thrust of the new permits is a requirement for all cities and towns with combined sewers to develop, within five years, detailed long-term plans for reducing overflows. Operators must inventory their assets, create engineering models for the underground flow, communicate with the public and develop solutions for sewer overflows, according to the state.

New York City, where 70% of the sewer system is combined, has been under a legally binding consent order to reduce sewer overflowssince the 1990s. The city has spent $2 billion on overflow reduction over the past 20 years and has set aside an additional $2.1 billion in its 10-year capital plan for projects such as pumping stations, storage tanks and rain gardens, which divert storm water from the sewers, city officials said.

In Connecticut, Hartford’s sewage authority is building a 4-mile-long, 18-foot-wide underground tunnel as part of a $2 billion effort to reduce sewer overflows, state environmental officials said. The tunnel will store more than 40 million gallons of additional wastewater during heavy rain, greatly reducing overflow into the Connecticut River, officials said.

For some environmentalists, New Jersey’s efforts fall short. “It’s a plan to come up with a plan,” Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey Sierra Club, said of the state’s process. “It allows these communities to keep allowing raw sewage to flow into our waterways for at least another five years, if not longer.”

Daniel Kennedy, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said New Jersey has eliminated 68 overflow discharge locations in the past 20 years and is aggressively addressing the remaining 213.

Every long-term plan will cost millions of dollars to complete, depending on the size of the system, and the state has earmarked $15 million in low-interest loan assistance, Mr. Kennedy said. Once the plans are complete, cities and towns will start building the infrastructure to reduce sewer overflows, he said.

In anticipation of the new state regulations, some New Jersey cities, towns and sewer-system operators have taken steps on their own. The North Hudson Sewerage Authority, which treats the wastewater for Hoboken, Weehawken, West New York and Union City, this year finished replacing a stretch of sewers on a street in Hoboken that dated to the Civil War era and were made of wood, said Executive Director Richard Wolff.

The sewer authority has started investing in overflow mitigation projects such as a 2-mile sewer separation in Hoboken, Mr. Wolff said. The agency has boosted its typical funding for overflow reduction projects from $20 million to $50 million in its five-year, $74 million capital budget, he said.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said her administration is building rain gardens, green roofs and other projects that she hopes will keep storm water out of the sewer system and, in turn, keep raw sewage out of the Hudson River.

Write to Kate King at [email protected]

« Back to Articles

Credentials and Credibility

I believe the QPswppp program offers individuals a self-paced learning platform to provide the credentials and credibility that busy professionals in the storm water industry deserve. Thanks stormwaterone!


Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Jeremiah S., City of Euclid
Committed Clients: