Save the Sound’s legal complaint alleges health risks and environmental harm from repeated release of untreated sewage.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2015
Laura McMillan, (203) 787 0646
SAVE THE SOUND SUES WESTCHESTER COUNTY OVER CLEAN WATER ACT VIOLATIONS
Mamaroneck, NY—Save the Sound has taken legal action against Westchester County and 11 of its municipalities over violations of the Clean Water Act. In a complaint filed against the County and a Notice of Intent to Sue filed against the municipalities, the environmental organization details how ongoing sewage leaks into Long Island Sound and its tributaries risk public health, harm the environment, and violate federal, state, and county law.
“We’ve waited decades for action. The time for the County and municipalities to stop discharges of raw and partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound and its tributaries is now,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director at Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “These ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act all around Westchester continue to endanger public health and harm Long Island Sound.”
Save the Sound filed a formal legal complaint dated August 11 against Westchester County for ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act in the New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Blind Brook, and Port Chester sanitary sewer districts. The complaint filing follows a Notice of Intent to Sue filed by Save the Sound against the County on June 11, 2015.
Specifically, the complaint claims that the County violates the Clean Water Act by:
- Discharging partially treated sewage from the Flint Ave. and Cherry Ave. sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) control facility in the New Rochelle Sewer District in violation of its Clean Water Permit;
- Failing to enforce the County Sewer Act to limit illegal levels of flow from municipalities in the New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Blind Brook, and Port Chester Sanitary Sewer Districts to the treatment plants; and
- Failing to implement state-mandated flow reduction requirements with municipalities in the New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Blind Brook, and Port Chester Sanitary Sewer Districts that are sufficient to end illegal discharges of raw sewage from the collection system.
Save the Sound also filed a new Notice of Intent to Sue several municipalities in Westchester County, dated August 7, for the same conduct in allowing their old and poorly maintained sewer systems to overflow raw sewage into Long Island Sound and its tributaries. These communities are Harrison, Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck, Mamaroneck Village, New Rochelle, Pelham Manor, Port Chester, Rye, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, and White Plains. The filing of the new notice letter allows Save the Sound to file a complaint against the municipalities in federal court for these claims if they are not remedied within 60 days. By including the communities that are contributing to the sewage overflow problems, Save the Sound hopes to reach a regional solution that includes all the responsible parties.
Discharges of raw and partially treated sewage into our waters are caused by the failure of Westchester County and its municipalities to properly maintain their sewer infrastructure, including their failure to prevent excessive inflow and infiltration of stormwater into cracked sewer lines. As the County noted in its own 2013 Flow Reduction Monitoring Report, excessive inflow and infiltration originating in portions of the four publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities operated by all of the Towns cause backups in, and overflows from, the sewage collection system (known as sanitary sewer overflows, or “SSOs”).
Save the Sound’s notice letter alleges that the municipalities:
- Discharge raw sewage without permits from the sewage collection system (SSOs);
- Discharge sewage via municipal separate stormwater systems (MS4s);
- Violate permit limits at some of the sewage treatment plants; and
- Discharge pollutants from the overflow retention facilities at the New Rochelle Sewer District in violation of a permit.
Overflows and leaks of raw or partially treated sewage can expose the public to bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Contact often comes from swimming or wading in water contaminated with SSO discharges or eating contaminated shellfish. In addition, sanitary sewer systems can back up into homes and other buildings. The most common illnesses include diarrhea, pink eye, ear infections, and skin irritation, but more serious and permanent problems can occur.
“The presence of untreated sewage in our waters and even our basements is unacceptable, and a danger to public health,” said Tracy Brown, director of Western Sound programs for Save the Sound. “Old, leaking, and poorly maintained sewer pipes are the main reason Westchester beaches are closed after rain, that we’re prohibited from harvesting clams or oyster in our local bays and harbors, and that our kids get sick when they go in the water. Our testing this summer has found fecal bacteria in rivers and streams all over Westchester—clearly, the band-aid solutions we’ve seen so far aren’t getting the job done. The Sound deserves better, and the families of Westchester deserve better.”
Save the Sound is calling on Westchester County and the municipalities to:
- Fix leaking town and county pipes;
- Fix leaking pipes that run from private homes and businesses into the public sewer system;
- Establish enforceable timelines for repairs; and
- Establish a sufficient funding source to complete the necessary work to eliminate overflows and to pay for the future ongoing maintenance of the pipes.
Save the Sound is a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment with an established 40-year track record of restoring and protecting the waters and shorelines of the Sound. From its offices in New Haven and Mamaroneck, Save the Sound works for a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant Long Island Sound where humans and marine life can prosper year-round. Our success is based on scientific knowledge, legal expertise, and thousands of ordinary people teaming up achieve results that benefit our environment for current and future generations.
- June blog post with Notice of Intent to Sue Westchester County and support documents
- Sound Health Explorer, Save the Sound’s new interactive map of beach pollution data from 2004 to 2015
- Save the Sound’s water quality monitoring program , including June-July 2015 data
- Save the Sound’s nitrogen petition to the EPA, February 2015
TOWNS AND SEWER DISTRICTS INVOLVED
- The New Rochelle Sanitary Sewer District collects and treats wastewater from four municipalities: the City of New Rochelle, the Town of Mamaroneck, the Village of Larchmont, and the Village of Pelham Manor.
- The Mamaroneck Sanitary Sewer District serves the following municipalities: City of New Rochelle, City of Rye, City of White Plains, the Town/Village of Harrison, the Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Mamaroneck, and the Village of Scarsdale.
- The Blind Brook Sanitary Sewer District serves the following municipalities: the City of Rye, the Town/Village of Harrison, the Village of Mamaroneck, and the Village of Rye Brook.
- The Port Chester Sanitary Sewer District serves the following municipalities: the Village of Mamaroneck and the Village of Rye Brook.