OLEAN — The Seneca Nation of Indians has threatened to sue the town of Olean for discharging sewage about once a year into the Allegheny River.
SNI reported Wednesday that authorities had sent a notice of intent to bring a civil action against the city under the federal Clean Water Act, accusing the city of “chronic” discharges on “a regular and continuous basis” and giving him 60 days to rectify the situation.
“Ohi:yo’ is part of our nation, our lives and our heritage, and we will not allow our people and future generations to be endangered,” said Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels. “Our connection and dependence on our natural resources and important vital resources like Ohi:yo’ must be protected from harmful actions. We will not turn a blind eye to this situation and we call on our neighbors to do the right thing and protect the river and those affected by their actions.
The SNI threatened to sue for civil penalties and court costs, as well as “any additional relief the court deems appropriate,” according to a statement.
“Clean and safe water is a basic human right, which should never be questioned,” Pagels said. “The river must be preserved so that it can sustain lives in the Seneca Nation and neighboring communities for generations to come.
One dump has been reported every year – the majority involving the South Fourth Street lift station – since 2018.
Mayor Bill Aiello was briefed on the notice on Tuesday but declined to comment on the merits citing legal advice. He noted, however, that the city has spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade to improve wastewater treatment in accordance with consent orders from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We are doing our best to comply with consent orders — and we also want clean water,” Aiello said, noting that in addition to a $23.25 million overhaul of the station treatment, the orders mean that “we must spend at least $250,000”. one year to repair our sewage treatment system.
THE MOST RECENT the flow, Aiello said, was 48,000 gallons in 45 minutes due to heavy rains on March 7.
“The volume was so big,” Aiello said, and when overfilled, the lift station has two directions to send water – “it can either go up into people’s houses or go around (processing and entering the river), which is what he did in this case.
SNI officials claimed that the effluent from the discharge contained 310 CFU/100 ml of enterococci, which exceeds the reporting limit of 61 CFU/ml. Additionally, E. coli, faecal coliforms and nitrates were detected in the effluent samples. No public notification of unsafe conditions has been made by health authorities, as has been the case in some past release incidents.
City officials point to stormwater inflow and seepage into sanitary sewers as the primary culprit for the March release, as well as the two releases reported in the past two years. A 15,000 gallon dump was reported in 2021 at the Adam Street lift station, blamed on heavy rain. A 2020 landfill of about 64,000 gallons in Fourth Street was triggered by nearly two inches of rain in an hour.
These releases were overshadowed by earlier releases. In August 2019, the largest dumping reported in years – about 330,000 gallons on Fourth Street – was caused by a power outage that knocked out the pump and radio alert system for nearly a day. The discharge led to a Cattaraugus County Health Department advisory to avoid recreation on the river for several days. City officials had seen a power outage in 2018 shut down the station, causing a 200,000 gallon dump. A contract had been signed for a generator system between the events, but it was still being installed during the 2019 discharge.
Seepage usually comes from aging sewer lines, Aiello said, because turn-of-the-century lines have deteriorated over decades, allowing rainfall to seep through. Relining and replacing the lines is the only way to alleviate the condition – at a replacement cost of tens of millions of dollars.
WHILE THE INFLUX AND infiltration are the main drivers of recent releases, the catalyst for consent orders has been the sewage treatment plant. Rebuilt twice in the mid-20th century, discharges from the plant occurred regularly, leading to threats of fines from the DEC. In the mid-2000s, DEC and the city agreed to two consent orders – one for the plant and one for system-wide repairs.
System-wide repair funds were spent on relining the main tie line between the Fourth Street lift station and the plant – which carries around 75% of the city’s sewage and was a major source of infiltration. Aiello said the 4ft pipe has been relined in sections and should be completed next year – then the funds can be transferred to other projects.
The mayor also noted that the city has taken other measures, such as forcing the disconnection of gutters and roof drains from the sanitary sewer – but such measures are only possible during city-mandated inspections during the property transfers.
“During the inspection is when you can come in and have a look,” Aiello said, adding that there had been talks to encourage compliance and strengthen enforcement.
While discharges were much more common before the overhaul, public awareness has increased due to the Wastewater Pollution Right-to-Know Act enacted in 2012 mandating public reporting within four hours of the discovery of pollution. ‘a reject.
A spokesperson for the SNI declined to comment on the corrective measures being taken.
It is unclear whether the notification will result in a lawsuit. The SNI sent a similar notification to the village of Portville in 2021, and no lawsuits or other communications were reported by village officials.
SNI officials said the village received millions in aid earlier this month from state and federal governments, and that “the Nation continues to monitor the village’s progress toward upgrading its facilities. to ensure that the Ohi:yo’ remains intact”.