Save the Sound, Long Island Soundkeeper, and Atlantic Clam Farms of Connecticut, a commercial shellfishing business, are suing Westchester County and the municipalities of Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Pelham Manor, Harrison, Port Chester, Rye, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, and White Plains for violating the Clean Water Act.
The groups allege that the county and towns have failed to adequately limit ongoing water pollution from poorly maintained sewer systems that are leaking harmful raw sewage into the Sound.
For decades, according to the lawsuit, the sewer lines that run under many of our streets and lawns have been been leaking raw sewage into local waterways, causing low oxygen, high bacteria levels, and long-term harm to the Sound. The leaks are the main reason why swimming beaches are closed after rain and why harvesting clams or oysters in local bays and harbors is prohibited.
Save the Sound’s water quality monitoring program (see our previous coverage) found high levels of fecal bacteria in Westchester waters in the summers of 2014 and 2015. State and federal government monitoring also shows local waterways are chronically polluted.
According to Save the Sound, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency know about the problems because they maintain the growing list of bacteria-impaired waterways that includes all of our harbors and many of our rivers.
Save the Sound says that it’s “review of public records found 81 reported sewage overflows since 2010 in the 11 communities named in the suit.” Because of pollution from sewage discharges into Long Island Sound, Atlantic Clam Farms, a party to the lawsuit, has been prohibited from shellfishing in the area of the Sound along the Westchester coastline, as have other commercial and recreational shellfishing operations.
Read the full legal complaint here. The plaintiffs allegations include:
- The County and the 11 municipalities illegally discharged raw sewage into rivers and Long Island Sound through Sanitary Sewer Overflows, and created a public nuisance by discharging raw and partially treated sewage that resulted in beach and shellfish bed closings and other harms.
- The County failed to enforce the Westchester County Sewer Act against all the municipalities as required by its Clean Water Act permits, and failed to require municipalities to reduce their flow as required by a 2008 Consent Order with the State. A recent study shows that all municipalities are violating the Sewer Act which sets a limit on flow designed to prevent the kind of sewage overflows that plague the region.
- The County and the municipalities of New Rochelle, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Larchmont, and Village of Pelham Manor have illegally discharged partially treated sewage from large underground sewage tanks, known as Overflow Retention Facilities.
- The Town/Village of Harrison, the Town of Mamaroneck, the Village of Mamaroneck, the City of Rye, the Village of Scarsdale, and the City of White Plains violated their stormwater discharge permits by discharging raw and inadequately treated sewage from their stormwater systems.
- Westchester County, the Village of Mamaroneck, the Village of Port Chester, the City of Rye, and the Village of Rye Brook discharged pollutants in violation of the permit limits at the Blind Brook and Port Chester Sewage Treatment Plants.
Here are two major reasons why water quality is deteriorating.
1. Septic tanks do not treat sewage, they solubilize it so it can get into ground water and then in open waters.
2. EPA never implemented the CWA, so sewage is not properly treated in treatment plants.
When EPA implemented the CWA and established sewage treatment standards for their NPDES permits, it used the 5-day BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) trst, instead of its full 30-days and thereby not only ignored 60% of tge oxygen exerting pollution, but also all the nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste also is a fertilizer for algae, hence contributes to dead zones now in nearly all open waters.
Acknowledging or admitting that such a basic mistake was and still is made, seems to be impossible and as consequence, nobody is holding EPA accountable. So much easier to divert the public’s attention by blaming this pollution on the runoffs from farms and cities, eagerly accepted by the media.