On August 9th, New York State passed the “Sewage Pollution Right-to-Know Act”, which requires the operators of publicly owned sewer systems or sewage treatment plants to notify regulators and the public of discharges of untreated sewage or partially treated sewage. This bill adds to existing federal and state spill reporting requirements for sewage treatment plants.
Under the current system, sewage discharges need only be reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the local department of health if they will affect recreational areas, shellfish harvesting, or public water supply intakes. Even this type of discharge was not required to be reported if it resulted from a combined sewer overflow (“CSO”). Under the new law, which takes effect May 1, 2013, all sewage discharges, including CSO discharges, must be reported to DEC and the local department of health (or the state department of health if there is no local health department) within two hours of their discovery. To the extent possible, this report must include:
- the volume of the discharge and the extent, if any, of its treatment;
- the expected duration of the discharge;
- the steps being taken to contain the discharge (unless it results from a CSO);
- the location of the discharge;
- and the reason for the discharge.
The new law also provides for notice to the general public and the chief elected officials (or their designated representative) of the municipality where the discharge occurred and any other municipalities that may be affected. This notice must take place within four hours of discovery of the discharge. The law requires DEC to promulgate new regulations specifying the form of this notice “through appropriate electronic media”, possibly including email or voicemail. DEC’s new regulations, however, are only to require public notice of sewage discharges that may affect public health – presumably, these discharges will include those that affect recreational areas, shellfish harvesting, or public water supply intakes, but it remains to be seen if DEC will require public notice of sewage discharges beyond those categories.
DEC will also be required to post notice of sewage discharges on its website and to compile an annual report on sewage discharges, which must include details on their location, duration, volume, and any measures taken to mitigate impacts or avoid future releases of sewage.