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Celebrating 50th of Pure Waters Act

Spring 2015 Issue

Many thousands of children around the globe die each year from drinking water that is contaminated with human and/or animal waste. Thankfully, such deaths are very rare in this country. This is not luck; it is due to many years of building, maintaining and improving our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Pure Waters Bond Act. In 1965, Governor Rockefeller proposed a $1 billion bond act, and a major element of the program was the construction of municipal wastewater treatment facilities. New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bond act. The result was, for that time, the largest and most comprehensive water pollution control program in the world.

The passage of New York's Pure Waters Bond Act helped lay the groundwork for the federal Clean Water Act. A key element of the Clean Water Act was federal infrastructure funding. Another was the goal of all waters being swimmable and fishable.

Facing Remaining Problems

Today we are working with many communities to address the remaining problems, such as sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) which, when they overflow, are a major source of pathogens for waterways. Across the state, a number of communities are working hard to address their overflows. For example, the six Albany area communities prepared a Long Term Control Plan which outlines significant wastewater infrastructure investments to stop most of the CSOs that are impacting the water quality of the Hudson River. The plan makes a commitment that after most rain storms the Hudson River near Albany will be swimmable within 10 hours.

While New York has invested significant dollars over the years to improve and maintain sewage treatment facilities, more work is needed to ensure protection of public health and safety. For example, there are about 147 treatment facilities (out of 610) that do not disinfect their treated effluent. The NYSDEC is encouraging these wastewater treatment facilities to disinfect their effluent. There was a time when poor water quality discouraged recreation in our waters. Now that waters are cleaner, disinfection of municipal wastewater effluent is increasingly necessary to protect people who recreate in the waterbodies. Citizens coming in contact with non-disinfected discharges can be sickened. Researchers have even found antibiotic resistant bacteria in New York's waterways linked to municipal sewage discharges.

Looking forward, NYSDEC is also cooperatively formulating an asset management policy and pilot program to better maintain wastewater infrastructure for the long term. This initiative protects the public health and environment by recognizing the substantial investment of public funds and the necessity to properly operate and maintain - and periodically re-invest - in wastewater infrastructure. The NYSDEC's asset management policy will insure that municipal wastewater infrastructure is operated and maintained in a state of good repair.

The high quality of our state's waters is no accident. It is the result of visionary thinking that started 50 years ago, steady efforts today, and planning and investment in the future.

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