BY DIANE BENCZKOWSKI
We are all aware of the outdated sewer infrastructure in our Town. We are reminded every time sewage overflows and is dumped into our waterways or when residents experience backups resulting in flooded and damaged basements. Cheektowaga is currently under an order of consent with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to address sanitary sewer overflows in the Town’s Consolidated Sewer District. Overflows occur because our sanitary sewer system was never designed to handle excess water from storm or groundwater and it becomes overloaded during times of melting snow and heavy rainfall.
These overflows are attributed to inflow and infiltration. Inflow occurs when storm water from illegal connections through sump pumps, downspouts and foundation drains flow directly into sanitary sewer pipes. Infiltration occurs when groundwater seeps into sanitary sewer pipes via cracks or leaky joints. Not only does the excess water cause overflows and backups, but it also increases costs. The Town currently transfers all waste water to the Buffalo Sewer Authority for treatment making annual payments based on volume. It is estimated that the Town currently spends nearly $1.5 million to unnecessarily put this “clear” water through the wastewater treatment process.
The Town is currently sealing 23 miles or roughly 1/8 of the entire sanitary sewer pipeline and will continue sealing the pipeline in the coming years. The Town will continue to improve and seal our sanitary sewer system from unwanted storm water, but this only solves half the problem. We must reduce inflow and make sure storm waters are not discharged into the Town’s Consolidated Sewer District. It is illegal for sump pumps, downspouts or foundation drains to be directly connected to the sanitary sewer system. The Town recently passed a new “Time of Sale” law in December 2015 which goes into effect March 1, 2016 to help enforce proper drainage hookups. Property owners must have their property inspected by the Town for proper drainage systems and given a certificate of compliance prior to selling their property.
We can no longer afford inaction as creeks like Scajaquada continue to be polluted with sewage, basements are flooded due to backups and taxpayer money is wasted treating storm water. The Town will continue to do its part addressing the sewer pipelines and inspecting homes and businesses, but I ask our residents for their help sooner rather than later. Make sure your sump pump is not connected to the sewage drain pipes or is not draining directly into a sink; inspect your gutters and disconnect any downspouts that are directly connected to the sanitary line; and do not plant trees or shrubs above your lateral sanitary connection.
You can also avoid backups by not pouring grease down your sink and not flushing disposable wipes down the toilet or drain even if they’re labeled as flushable.
We are continuously reviewing what our Town and residents must do to be in full compliance with the DEC and I will update you as new developments occur. More information about “Inflow & Infiltration” has been made available at tocny.org. Also, please feel free to call my office at 686-3465 with any questions. Let’s work together to give our waterways a chance at starting over again.
Diane Benczkowski is the newly elected Supervisor of the Town of Cheektowaga. This letter was originally published in the Cheektowaga Bee.