Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Image of a beach with a closure sign.Demanding the Right to Know When Sewage Overflows Impact Our Local Waterways

Healthy water bodies are essential to our health and our quality of life throughout New York and Connecticut. Whether it is for boating, fishing or swimming; we rely heavily on our waterways for recreation and tourism, and deserve the right to know when our beaches, waterways, and communities have been contaminated from sewage.

Many communities in New York, Connecticut, and across the nation are adversely impacted from sewage overflows. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans become ill annually from contact with recreational waters contaminated by sewage. Adverse health impacts from parasites, viruses, and bacteria found in raw sewage include short-term gastrointestinal problems, infections and fevers; and long-term chronic conditions such as liver, heart, or kidney failure; as well as arthritis and cancer.

Contaminants from sewage contribute to red and brown tide algal blooms, which can result in unhealthy fish populations and create serious health risks upon consumption. Sewage pollution also contributes to shellfish bed closures, as well as beach closures that are responsible for economic losses of $1–2 billion annually in the U.S. When our heavily frequented beaches and fisheries are put at risk of contamination, not only does the economy suffer, but members of the public are put at risk.

NYS Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law

In 2012, CCE worked to pass the Sewage Pollution Right to Know law. This law gives the public the right to know when raw or partially treated sewage is discharged into New York waters, allowing the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to dangerous sewage pollution. Thousands of sewage overflows occur throughout NY every year. They contaminate beaches, bays, rivers, lakes, and streams; and can flood streets and back up into homes or other buildings. The public demonstrated overwhelming support for passage of this important law. 21,500 letters were sent to elected officials, and 50,000 signatures were collected in support of the public's right to know when sewage overflows contaminate New York's waterways and communities. Information on sewage overflows New York State can be found on NYS DEC's Sewage Discharge Reports webpage. While some progress toward implementation of the law has occurred, more work remains. CCE continues to work to ensure full implementation of the law as soon as possible.

In addition to public notification about overflows, the DEC is required to produce a statewide Sewage Discharge Report each year that will report annual discharges and remedial responses taken. Increased public awareness of the size and scope of New York's sewage problems should spur increased investment in solving the problem.

Nassau County, NY, has an email notification system to notify residents when there has been a spill or leak from the sewage treatment system. CCE also maintains a list of past sewage overflows in Nassau County.

CT Sewage Right to Know Law

Governor Malloy signed the first Sewage Pollution Right-to-Know Act into law in 2012, which established an electronic reporting system for wastewater treatment plant operators to use when reporting sewage spills to the State. This data is collected by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and made available to the public via DEEP's website. Unfortunately, the law did not explicitly require wastewater treatment plant operators to use the online form, and some wastewater districts opted to continue using the outdated paper-based reporting system for sewage spills.

In 2018, the CT General Assembly (CGA) updated this important policy by mandating that all wastewater treatment plant operators use the online system for reporting raw and partially treated sewage spills. Additionally, the new law requires sewer plant operators to notify their towns directly, whenever such a spill exceeds 5,000 gallons and enters a local waterway. CCE was instrumental in the development and passage of this important law, and continues to work with DEEP to ensure uniform implementation.

You can view real-time updates about sewage spills in Connecticut by visiting DEEP's Live CSO/bypass map.

Updated by lburch 7/28/18