- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Sewer Authority will spend $380 million over the next 20 years to reduce the amount of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff flowing into the Niagara River, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.

The work will involve sewage plant upgrades and the installation of rain gardens, pervious pavements, rain barrels and other techniques designed to absorb stormwater and prevent it from overwhelming the sewer system. In some areas, vacant buildings will be demolished to increase green space.

Some 1.75 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater enter the Niagara River and its tributaries each year. The EPA had required the authority to create a plan to reduce the pollution.

“This has been going on for years and it must be reversed,” EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck said. “It degrades water quality and it has a direct effect on the quality of people’s lives.”

Water from downpours or snowmelt can now exceed the sewer system’s capabilities, forcing excess wastewater and stormwater into the river. In addition to untreated sewage, the pollutants can include industrial waste that negatively affects wildlife, water quality and outdoor recreation.

“Improving our regional water quality can create a healthier community and a stronger economy,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, an organization that works to protect the river’s environment.

Some phases of the work have already begun, Enck said, and the remainder will take place over the next 20 years.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has signed off on the project, which DEC Commissioner Joe Martens called “an important step in achieving cleaner, healthier and more vibrant waters in the city of Buffalo.”

Local sewer customers will likely pay for most of the work, though some federal funds may help defray the cost. A message left with the authority was not immediately returned Monday.

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