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Sewage Pollution Right to Know

Sewage Pollution Right to Know (SPRTK)

The 2013 Sewage Pollution Right to Know (SPRTK) requires untreated and partially treated sewage discharges to be reported by publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and publicly owned sewer systems (POSSs) within two hours of discovery to DEC and within four hours of discovery to the public and adjoining municipalities. The regulations for implementing SPRTK can be found in 6 NYCRR Part 750.

Why do untreated and partially treated sewage discharges occur?

Sewage that does not reach the treatment facility or is not treated may pollute waterbodies. Sewage may leave the system before being treated due to:

  • Weather (heavy rains or snowmelt)
  • Sewer system blockages
  • Insufficient system capacity
  • Structural, mechanical or electrical failures
  • Collapsed or broken sewer pipes
  • Vandalism

Additionally, the older a collection system is, the more likely it is to experience sewage discharges. Of New York State's over 35,000 miles of sewers, approximately 40% are more than 60 years old. About 10% were built before 1925. Nearly 65% of sewers more than 60 years old experience overflow events.

Affected Municipalities

There are over 600 municipally owned wastewater treatment facilities in New York State, and more that 200 additional municipalities own pipes that send sewage to treatment facilities owned by other municipalities. Is your municipality registered (Excel Spreadsheet, 43 KB) to submit reports through NY-Alert?

Avoid Recreation in Sewage Pollution

Notifications of sewage discharges help the public avoid boating, fishing or swimming in waterbodies that may contain illness causing bacteria.

Highlighting Infrastructure Needs

Reporting and tracking where sewage pollution enters waterbodies will build awareness about where wastewater infrastructure upgrades may be needed, including sewer replacement and updated technology at wastewater treatment plants.

What's in the Reports?

Municipalities must report (to the extent knowable using existing systems and models):

  • Date/Time of Discharge - approximate date and time that the discharge started
  • Location of Discharge - to the maximum level of specificity possible
  • Duration of Discharge - estimation of expected duration of discharge
  • Volume of Discharge - estimation of the volume of discharge
  • Treated State of Discharge - Untreated, Primary Treatment with Disinfection, or Primary Treatment without Disinfection
  • Reason(s) for Discharge - information about why the discharge occurred
  • Description of Corrective Action(s) - Brief summary of the preventive or corrective actions taken to contain the discharge

What is a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO)?

Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) are discharges of raw sewage from sanitary sewers and are prohibited. SSOs can release untreated sewage into basements or out of manholes and onto city streets, playgrounds or into streams, depending on where the problem in the system occurs.

SSOs contain raw sewage and can expose people to bacteria that may cause illness through contaminated water sources or recreation in waterbodies. Shellfish that are harvested for human consumption can also be contaminated with raw sewage.

How You Can Help Prevent Sewage Overflows

There are many ways you can help reduce sewage pollution from entering our waterbodies. Reducing water use and keeping everything but sanitary waste out of pipes reduces sewer backups and overflows and saves money in the long run.

Conserve Water

Conserving water can help reduce pollution of our waterbodies. More water used in our homes means more water treated at wastewater treatment facilities. Taking the following actions may help reduce the volume of water requiring treatment and decrease the potential for sewage overflows during storms:

  • Shut off faucets when not in use
  • Repair leaking faucets or pipes
  • Take shorter showers
  • Install low flow devices on faucets and showerheads and install low flow/dual flush toilets
  • Replace older dishwashers and washing machines with newer, more energy efficient and water conserving models
  • Use rainwater to water your gardens by installing rain barrels

Visit Saving Water Makes Good Sense for more tips on conserving water resources.

Don't Dump Fats, Oil and Grease Down Drains

Drainpipe buildup Town of Tyngsborough, MA
Don't dump fats, oils and grease down drains.
These build up in sewer pipes and can cause
sewers to overflow or backup into homes and
businesses. Image: Town of Tyngsborough, MA

The build-up of fats, oils and grease causes many collection system overflows. Grease, oils or fatty substances dumped down residential or restaurant kitchen sinks can build-up in sewer pipes.

These build-ups can cause Overflows or back-ups of sewage into homes. Instead of dumping them down the sink, allow fats, oils and grease to cool and dispose of them in the trash. Restaurants should install grease traps and collect used oil and grease for proper disposal.

What Not to Flush

Certain materials that are commonly flushed down the toilet or dumped into kitchen sinks can damage sewer systems and wastewater treatment equipment, even when they are labeled as flushable:

  • Diapers
  • Baby Wipes
  • Personal Hygiene Products

Do not flush any of these items, no matter how small, down the toilet. Throw them in the trash.

POSS Technical Guidance

In addition to reporting sewage discharges, POSSs are also required to properly operate and maintain their wastewater collection system. This section contains links to several web sites created by various non-profit environmental assistance organizations to assist POSSs in proper operation and maintenance (O & M) procedures.

EPA's Wastewater Collection System Toolbox - This web site developed by EPA contains many valuable resources related to proper O & M of POSS systems. Documents included range from manhole and pipe assessments to resiliency trainings to public educational materials.

Water Environment Federation's Wastewater Collection and Treatment Operations Resource Center - This website includes information for both POTWs and POSSs, but has many informative technical documents.

New England Interstate's Wastewater and Onsite Systems Web Page - In addition to O & M material, this website also includes information on the voluntary collection system operator certification program.

American Water Works Association Wastewater Collection Systems - The AWWA website requires users to log in, but provides free training materials and guidance.

New York Water Environment Association's Voluntary Collection System Certification - NYWEA offers a voluntary collection system certification for staff. This program helps to assure that wastewater collection systems and equipment are operated and maintained by qualified staff who possess a high level of competence in the wastewater collection field.

Sewage Discharge Notifications

NYAlert is the notification tool for municipalities to let the DEC, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the public know that a discharge has recently occurred. DEC and DOH determine what to do about discharges after consulting with the municipality.

This page includes sewage discharge notifications that were sent out through NY-Alert within the last 7 days. The information from these alerts can help you make decisions about where to recreate on New York's waterbodies. Historical sewage spill data is available from 2013.

Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law

The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law (SPRTK) requires that publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and publicly owned sewer systems (POSSs) report sewage spills to the public within four hours of discovery. DEC does not issue alerts. These alerts are issued by the municipality who owns the sewer or treatment works where a sewage discharge takes place. DEC also does not make the decision on public health issues. DOH determines if there is a public health problem. DOH is notified at the time of the initial report.

Sign-up to receive sewage discharge alerts directly to your phone, email, or text via the NY-alert system. Once your account is created you will want to add the Sewage Discharge Notification to your list of alerts. To do this first click the "Edit" button next to "My Subscriptions". Click the "+" next to "Select your County Alerts" and then click the "+" sign next to the county/counties you want to receive alerts from. Check the box of the types of alerts you would like for each county. Make sure you include "Sewage Discharge Notifications" and click "Save".

For more information about NY-Alert, visit the NY-Alert website. (leaves DEC website)

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs)

CSOs may discharge untreated sewage when it rains-find out if you live, or recreate in a CSO community and learn about CSOs.

Historical Sewage Discharge Data

Historical sewage discharge data is retrieved from NY-Alert in batches and can be viewed in an Excel spreadsheet called Sewage Discharge Reports. This spreadsheet is separated into multiple tabs as changes have been made to the data collection methods. These tabs contain the following information:

  • "Updated NY-Alerts from January 2021 through current"- 2021 Sewage Discharge Reports (Excel) - This update addresses the recent missing notification data (starting July 2021).
  • "PDFs through May 2015"-data from May 2013 through May 2015 which was submitted to DEC as PDFs.
  • "NY-Alerts through May 10, 2016"-data which was received from NY-Alert from February 2015 through May 2016.
  • "NY-Alerts from May 2016 through May 2017"-data which was received from NY-Alert from May 2016 through May 2017.
  • "NY-Alerts from May 2016 through July 2017"-data which was received from NY-Alert from May 2017 through July 2017.
  • Beginning in August 2017 data is updated monthly and added as a new tab.

Data Caveats

Please note: Recent notification data (starting July 2021) may be missing from the historical data reports. We are working with the service provider to update the data. If you have questions or problems with the data, please email the SPRTK team.

  • All data is submitted by the POTWs and POSSs.
  • DEC does not issue notifications about individual discharges.
  • The reports are submitted by the notifiers creating the reports in a short time frame after discovery of the discharge and specific details may not be known.
  • Data is estimated based on the existing systems, models, and personal knowledge of the sewer systems.
  • Data quality is not checked by DEC.
  • The NY-Alert program allows for negative durations and zero quantities for volume.
  • Background system processing on duration calculates to the next whole hour.
  • Addresses may not be entered by the notifiers in a way that allows the parts of the address to be separated.
  • Multiple notifications may be entered for the same discharge since municipalities need to submit daily and termination reports for ongoing discharges.

Recent NY-Alert Notifications

Information for Municipalities

Municipalities with Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) and Publicly Owned Sewer Systems (POSSs) are required to notify DEC and the Department of Health immediately, but no later than two hours after discovery of an untreated or partially treated sewage discharge. The public and adjoining municipalities must be notified as soon as possible but no later than four hours from discovery. This page contains information and reference material that will help POTWs and POSSs comply with the law.

What Needs to Be Reported

The following types of discharges must be reported:

  • Untreated or partially treated sewage from POTWs and POSSs; and
  • Discharges from CSO outfalls.

A discharge of partially treated sewage directly from a POTW that is in compliance with a DEC approved plan or permit does not need to be reported.

The report must be entered into NY-Alert and include the following for each discharge:

  • Facility Name
  • Volume or Rate
  • Treated State
  • Date and Time of discharge
  • Expected or Actual end date and time of discharge
  • Any corrective actions taken to contain the discharge
  • Location
  • Receiving waterbody
  • Reason for the event

A five-day written report of the discharge is required in accordance with Part 750-2.7 (leaves DEC website).

About NY-Alert

NY-Alert is the notification system that must be used to alert DEC, DOH and the public about sewage discharges as required by SPRTK. It is free for POTWs and POSSs to use and there is no cost to the public to sign-up and receive alerts.

A single on-line form through the NY-Alert system is used for both the 2 and 4-hour notifications. The system can be accessed by a mobile device.

NY-Alert Guidance Materials

Registration and Update Forms

Mail the form(s) with the original signature of the principal executive officer or ranking elected official to:

Bureau of Water Compliance
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-3506

Reporting Tips

  • Designate at least two notifiers for your municipality.
  • To get the location to the "maximum level of specificity", use the Map IT button in NY-Alert to put the pinpoint on the spot where the discharge is occurring. This will populate the address field in the proper format.
  • Volume must be reported. Zero is not an acceptable value for the quantity field. There are several ways to determine or estimate volume:
    • If a pump is used, use the pumping rate of the pump.
    • If a meter is used, use the value obtained by the meter.
    • Use Part II of the Annual CSO BMP report to estimate the volume of discharges. Divide the total volume discharged by the number of overflow events. Use this as the average volume for each notification and justify in the additional instructions section.
    • If a model has been run in the past that indicates that a .2-inch storm will likely cause a CSO event, then the notification should be made when that storm event is predicted to occur. If the model shows that this storm event will create a discharge of 200 gallons per minute, then this is the volume information to enter into NY-Alert. For systems that have been modeled creating a chart of rainfall versus discharge amount for the public to use can be helpful. A model doesn't need to be run after every storm.
  • To clarify any part of the notification, including the method of determining CSO discharge volume, use the additional instructions text box. This box can also include links to the municipality's website where more information can be obtained about how discharges are being addressed.
  • For locations that have frequent discharges, email to request a template.
  • Click on "Send Update" to add information to an event or to submit daily reports for ongoing discharges.
  • Click "Close - Send a Notification" for the termination report of a multi-day discharge.