EPA announces funds to fix water treatment for future storms

A day after the nonprofit Climate Central released a much-publicized report detailing the extent of sewage pollution caused by superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to direct $569 million in federal aid to wastewater and drinking water facilities hit by the storm.

The money will go to projects aimed at fending off the effects of another storm like Sandy, which triggered power outages at treatment plants and overwhelmed the facilities with far more water than they could handle. As a result, the Climate Central report states, 11 billion gallons of partially treated or completely raw sewage — which accounted for about one-third of that total — made its way into the region’s waterways and flowed to flooded buildings. Some of the plants continued to spew sewage in the weeks and months after Sandy hit because of damage from the storm, the report said.

Oil and sewage coated New York City streets and buildings after Sandy. Photo: Timothy Krause/Flickr

“Today, I’m happy to announce that we are taking a critical step to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said on a conference call Thursday morning.

New York State will receive $340 million and New Jersey will see the other $229 million for the water resilience work. (Those amounts would have been greater — totaling $600 million — if it hadn’t been for the federal budget sequester, noted EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.) The funds come from the $60 billion Sandy aid bill signed into law at the end of January.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will be tasked with distributing the funds as grants or low-interest loans to local communities. After reviewing project proposals, they will select their top choices and submit their recommendations to the EPA, at which point the public will be able to look over the plans and submit comments.

The EPA notes that projects that include “green infrastructure” — natural defenses like wetlands and sand dunes that can collect rain and floodwater before it makes its way to treatment plants — are eligible for the funding.

“Few things are more essential than clean drinking water and the treatment of raw sewage,” Enck said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has estimated that it would cost more than $1 billion to repair New York’s Sandy-battered water treatment facilities.

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