Although an engineer hired by the Niagara Falls Water Board maintains that the color of treated sewage discharge cannot be made translucent, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has made their position crystal clear: the Niagara River must remain uncolored.
Last July, dark-colored discharge and incidents of treatment plant overflow into the Niagara River forced Governor Cuomo to call for a $20 million infrastructure upgrade that included two engineering studies. More recently, the Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB) launched its Wastewater Investment Initiative awareness campaign, which aims to work with local, state, and federal officials and educate the community to advocate for infrastructure improvement for older wastewater treatment facilities.
But according to John Goeddertz, an engineer for national firm AECOM — which has managed the plant in question for the last 40 years — countless improvements have already been attempted. Short of converting the entire plant, clear treatment discharge will not be possible.
“Capital upgrades and operational changes at this plant will only get you so far,” Goeddertz explained in a recent interview. “I believe the best course of action is a biological treatment plant.”
The Niagara Falls plant, which operates on a carbon-based system, was considered cutting-edge when it was built in the 1970s. But now, it’s the only plant around that continues to operate sans substantial technological modification.
Keeping the current technology intact, says Goeddertz, will make it nearly impossible to do much more than coloring the discharge to make it less visible in the water. Already, treatment chemicals have been replaced and water movement through the system has been sped up. Goeddertz maintains that a new tunnel could be created to go beneath the surface of the river, but that plan would cost $20 million and wouldn’t actually address the problem of the black discharge.
The DEC is not satisfied with the answer Goeddertz provided and ordered the NFWB to produce a report by early 2019 on how the treatment discharge can be made clear.
The engineer — whose salary could vary widely from $50,000 to $150,000 per year, according to labor statistics — prefers a more drastic solution: converting the plant’s technology to a biological process in order to adhere to state water quality standards. But than plan could cost more than $100 million, and it’s necessary to stabilize the existing plant first.
Both local residents and tourism organizations alike are pressing local and stage agencies to fix the root of the issue, rather than “tweaking” the color of the discharge to utilize a loophole. Considering that Niagara Falls is a destination that depends on the beauty of local water sources, it’s not an issue the municipality can afford to ignore.