NIAGARA FALLS, NY — In its report to the the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the Niagara Falls Water Board said that a "misunderstanding" was the cause of the discharge of dark, smelly water into the Lower Niagara River gorge back on July 29.
"The NFWB has determined that the darkened discharge of July 29th, 2017 occurred when the pump ran longer than intended because of a misunderstanding between employees on duty that day," the board released in a statement. "Verbal instructions were given at the commencement of the de-watering operation on July 29th that the 'primary' operator on duty should turn off the pump when the plant’s effluent exiting the CCT became dark in color."
The NFWB said that if the instructions were followed, the discharge would have been "minimal."
"This current technology causes difficulties in the management of sulfide generated at the plant, which can periodically result in the production of odors and wastewater which contrasts in color with the waters in the Niagara River gorge, despite the diligent efforts of the operators of the WRRF (Water Resource Recovery Facility).
The DEC released in a statement that it has begun reviewing the NFWB's report.
"As part of the State’s ongoing investigation directed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo into the July 29 black water discharge into the lower Niagara River, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received the consultant report from the Niagara Falls Water Board regarding the incident. DEC is thoroughly reviewing this report while we complete our investigation and determine appropriate actions to address this incident."
To prevent future discharges, there will be new procedures for emptying or de-watering any basin or tank in the future.
"In order to prevent a re-occurrence of this incident from happening during dewatering operations, the NFWB will implement new procedures for emptying or dewatering any basin or tank in the future," the statement reads. "In addition, to improve routine operations, the NFWB proposes that the WRRF’s sludge removal capacity be improved and the location of the pump in SB#5 be raised/modified to reduce the possibility that sludge-containing water from SB#5 will be discharged to the CCT."
The statement continues: "Until these measures are completed, the NFWB has directed its filter backwash water in SB#5 to the head of the plant (rapid mix tank) for re-treatment before it is discharged. Once such recommended improvements occur, the NFWB believes that filter backwash can be re-directed back to SB#5 and discharged to the CCT as part of our routine operations."
The board sited other possible options for avoiding this issue, however it won't come without a big price tag.
The treatment facility could be modified or moved, a project that would cost taxpayers anywhere from $15 to $20 million.
"That is beyond the means of the NFWB’s ratepayers," the statement said.
Another option, which would foot an even bigger bill, would be to consider changing the treatment technology used at the Water Resource Recovery Facility from a "physical chemical treatment process to an aerobic biological treatment process."
The NFWB said that it sent a "Turbidity Study" to the DEC, which suggested measures to improve the facility’s overall disinfection process.
"The NFWB is committed to treating wastewater from the City of Niagara Falls in the most safe, appropriate and lawful manner possible." The NFWB continued, "...as well as to providing these services in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible for its ratepayers. The board will continue to make any and all improvements necessary to do so."