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Niagara Falls Sewage Release Highlights Aging Systems

By Angelica Morrison

Niagara Falls, N.Y., has a messy problem -- it continues to dump sewage and discolored water downriver from the popular tourist attraction. The most recent incident happened Wednesday afternoon.

New York State said this week’s discharge released an estimated 5 million gallons of sewage into the Niagara River.

State officials say the “badly discolored water” violates its water quality standards, and they want the Niagara Falls Water Board to correct the issue.

The discharge came after a thunderstorm. And that’s a common problem in the Great Lakes region. Underground pipes are often overwhelmed by the combination of untreated sewage and storm water.

Board officials were not available to comment, though they issued a statement about changes being made to the system. The board said it was considering long-term solutions, including expanding the capacity of the  wastewater treatment facility.

Mayor Paul Dyster says the board intends to increase its focus on the outdated sewer system.

"I spoke to the director of the Niagara Falls Water Board, he told me they're now working with their board to put together a plant to try to address these issues," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency says 182 communities along the Great Lakes corridor have combined sewer overflow systems that discharge into the Lakes. The agency estimates that 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage was released into the Great Lakes in 2014 alone.

And that’s not counting any discharges from Canada.

In Toronto, it’s an issue that environmental groups have been battling for years. Every time there’s heavy rain, stuff from people’s toilets -- like condoms and tampons -- are found in Lake Ontario.

Krystyn Tully of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has been on the front line of the issue. She says aging infrastructure is also a problem in Toronto.

But, it’s not the only problem.

"Another problem is when the sewer systems were built, they were built to capture sewage for a certain number of people and a lot of the cities have grown," she said. "There's a lot more people living in the city today, than there was 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So, we actually don't physically have the capacity."

Tully says Toronto has a $2 billion project in place to address infrastructure issues.

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