BUFFALO, NY-- Kevin Koone comes up empty at his favorite fishing hole on the Buffalo River whenever he catches a whiff of raw sewage.
“When it’s real strong, the fish don’t bite. It just ruins the fishing down here,” he said in August, while fishing at Mutual Riverfront Park at the foot of Hamburg Street in South Buffalo.
The source of the stench: The 255 million gallons of sewage and stormwater runoff that flow into the river upstream every year.
Sewage discharges this summer that discolored the Niagara Gorge caused an outcry, but fouled waters are an even bigger problem in Buffalo.
Depending on rainfall, the sewage lines managed by the Buffalo Sewer Authority spew between 1.75 billion and 4 billion gallons of raw sewage and storm water into creeks and rivers each year.
The wastewater fouls some of the city’s most popular waterfront destinations, including Canalside, Delaware Park, Broderick Park and Black Rock Canal Park.
“It’s important for people to know that [state environmental regulators] allow sewer discharges into our waterways every day, every week, every year,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.
Pressed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the sewer authority is in the early stages of a 20-year, $380 million program to significantly reduce sewer overflows by at least two-thirds.
The sewer authority has already completed about 35 projects in the past four years, reducing, but not eliminating, discharges into the Buffalo River, Black Rock Canal, Scajaquada Creek and Cazenovia Creek.
The authority estimates that a half-billion gallons of sewage and stormwater will continue to gush into creeks and rivers even after all of the work, involving some 75 projects, is completed in 2034.
“When we are done with this we will have reduced it so that it doesn’t have any effect on water quality,” said OJ McFoy, the general manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority.
“That is the key thing: We will be in compliance with the Clean Water Act.”
In the meantime, local waterways continue to be inundated with discharges of sewage and stormwater runoff.
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