Clean water advocates concerned about hints of EPA deregulation

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BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) Advocates for clean water are reacting with concern to a NY Times article citing sources from around the country who see a loosening of the rules by the current EPA when it comes to the amount of raw sewage which cities and towns discharge into waterways like Lake Erie.

“Every single one of us relies on that lake every day,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Waterkeeper. “We’re only as strong as the weakest link of the chain. So, if we have different rules and different standards and different targets for different communities, we’re only going to be held back by those who refuse to make the changes that are gonna be done.”

But Oluwole McFoy, general manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority said he hasn’t seen any direct evidence here of deregulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. “You know, we haven’t actually noticed that. We met recently with the EPA and the DEC on just making sure our long term control plan kind of our commitment to the City of Buffalo, that we’re adhering to that and we’re delivering it for the citizens of Buffalo.”

The Buffalo Sewer Authority just finished installing its fifth system of underground gates to hold back mixed sewer water during a heavy rain, so that the mixed water can be treated before rushing into the Niagara River and Lake Erie.

The Erie County Water Authority has also made improvements to limit the amount of untreated sewage which gets into Scajaquada Creek or results in the closure of Woodlawn Beach.

Dr. Gale Burstein, commissioner of the the Erie County Department of Health, notes that human waste is not even the most concerning part of allowing more wastewater into the lake. “There’s already problems with our toxic algae blooms, the blooming algae and really that’s propagated by changes in the PH due to fertilizer dumps, runoff of fertilizers from the farms, and So we really want to be vigilant to keep our water clean.”

Here is a statement released Tuesday by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

“While the federal government is pulling away from its responsibility to protect the nation’s extremely valuable wetlands, New York State is taking great steps forward as a leader in the efforts to protect state wetlands and their invaluable natural habitat.  It is estimated that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will remove federal protections for about half the nation’s wetlands. Thankfully, existing strong protections of waters in New York state will reduce the impact of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule compared to many other states.

Governor Cuomo recognized the importance of counteracting the Trump administration’s continuing assault on the environment and has proposed bold changes to the New York State’s Freshwater Wetlands Act.  Under the Governor’s wetland proposal, all large wetlands greater than 12.4 acres in size would be protected, not just the limited set of wetlands depicted on outdated maps.  This part of the proposal alone would protect an additional one million acres of wetlands beyond those currently protected under state law. In addition, the proposal includes strategic protections for smaller wetlands of unusual importance to make sure that New York can adapt to the increasing flooding risk from a changing climate. The Governor’s proposal is an important step in protecting wetlands, especially at a time when the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule is limiting federal protection.”

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