Lautenberg Reintroduces Bill to Protect Communities From Sewage Overflow, Urges EPA to Speed Rebuilding Efforts After Sandy Damage

Bill Would Give Communities Right to Know About Possible Health Risks From Sewage

WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 28, 2013 – (RealEstateRama) — Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation to give families the right to know when their health may be at risk from contamination due to sewage facility overflow. The “Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act” would introduce new, stricter monitoring practices of sewage facilities and ensure that neighboring communities know when their environment and health might be at risk from sewage overflow and contamination. In addition, Sen. Lautenberg called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe to quickly allocate Sandy relief funds to rebuild New Jersey’s water treatment facilities.

“Families have the right to know when sewage facilities overflow and threaten their health. This bill will put new measures in place to monitor facilities and notify communities when they are at risk,” said Sen. Lautenberg, a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). “Superstorm Sandy made the need for this ‘right to know’ legislation abundantly clear when storm damage caused millions of gallons of untreated sewage to flow into Newark Bay and the Raritan River.”

In a 2004 report to Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that 118,000 sanitary sewer overflow events occur annually, releasing up to 860 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and contributing to beach closures, shellfish bed closures, contamination of drinking water supplies, and other environmental and public health concerns. EPA’s report recommends improved monitoring and reporting programs in order to provide better data for decision makers.

The “Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act” responds to EPA’s recommendation by requiring treatment works operators to institute effective monitoring technology, to quickly notify public health authorities and public water systems of overflows with significant human health consequences, and to notify the public of overflows with the potential to affect human health as soon as practicable.

The “Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act” is co-sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). A summary of the bill can be viewed here.

The need for better monitoring and flood control was highlighted during Superstorm Sandy when two of New Jersey’s largest wastewater treatment plants, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) and the Middlesex County Utility Authority (MCUA), lost power and sustained significant damage. As a result, millions of gallons of untreated, and partially treated, sewage flowed directly into Newark Bay and the Raritan River.

In response to this damage, Senator Lautenberg sent a letter today to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe urging him to act quickly to release the $600 million in water infrastructure repair funding that was included in the Superstorm Sandy relief package. These funds, administered by EPA through the State Revolving Fund programs under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, can be used to repair damage and improve the resiliency of New Jersey’s water facilities, including projects to prevent future sewage overflows.

Lautenberg wrote, “Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey’s water infrastructure, creating serious environmental and public health hazards. In response to this damage, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act included $600 million for the State Revolving Fund programs under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. I urge EPA to move forward quickly to use these funds to repair the damage to and improve the resiliency of New Jersey’s water facilities, including through projects to prevent sewage overflows during future storms.”

The complete text of Sen. Lautenberg’s letter to EPA Acting Administrator Perciasepe is below, and can be viewed here.

February 27, 2013

Dear Acting Administrator Perciasepe:

Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey’s water infrastructure, creating serious environmental and public health hazards. In response to this damage, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-2) included $600 million for the State Revolving Fund programs under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. I urge EPA to move forward quickly to use these funds to repair the damage to and improve the resiliency of New Jersey’s water facilities, including through projects to prevent sewage overflows during future storms.

During Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey’s largest sewage treatment facility, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), was flooded by 200 million gallons of saltwater. At one point, a five foot wall of water overwhelmed the plant, which treats an average of 240 million gallons of wastewater daily. Throughout the course of the storm, buildings at the facility were destroyed, pumps flooded, and critical equipment was badly damaged, forcing operators to release billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into Newark Bay over several weeks.

In addition, the Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA) suffered similar damage. MCUA, which serves 797,000 customers in 37 surrounding towns, lost two of its three pump stations due to the storm, and untreated sewage was discharged into local waterways, causing water restrictions for local residents.

As you know, untreated sewage poses serious environmental and public health risks, including bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing organisms. It is critical that we build stronger in the wake of Superstorm Sandy so that communities do not have to worry about contaminated water and broken infrastructure during future storms.

Thank you for all of your efforts to protect communities that were impacted by Superstorm Sandy. As we move into the recovery phase, I look forward to our continued work together to repair, rebuild, and strengthen New Jersey’s water infrastructure.

Sincerely,

Contact:
Lautenberg Press Office, 202-224-3224

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