Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beneath Our Streets

At last week's Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, a resident of lower Allen Street was there to complain about the sewer odor emanating from the storm drain. Public Works superintendent Rob Perry explained that the problem was there had been no rain lately to flush the storm drains and thus eliminate the odor.

There was lots of rain to flush the storm drains last night, and this morning, at about 8 a.m., mayoral candidate Tiffany Martin Hamilton ventured down North Front and Dock streets--just outside the waste water treatment plant, where everything in the sewers ends up--and took these pictures, which she posted this morning on Facebook with this comment:
To anyone thinks we don't have a problem with our sewer system, have a look at these photos taken just now [8 a.m.] at the corner of Front and Dock Streets. One of the city workers kindly reminded me that I was standing in 6+ inches of waste water, as is evidenced by the toilet paper and condom. All of this is going straight into the North Bay and river.


  1. Thank you, Tiffany. It certainly proves the genius of the Common Council in its assertion that the new $600,000 sewer project will be "dry" and have no environmental impact. Not!

    1. As per your quip, Peter, the City's claim in June that "the stormwater pipe will be empty ... until there are other stormwater sections to connect to it" was not true.

      No one seemed to notice that the above claim contradicted the earlier, exaggerated claim of the Consolidated Funding Application (for the $600K), that "the impact of the project will be substantive even in its first phase."

      Last month, when speaking about the sewer grates in the parking lots of the Terrace apartments, our DPW Supervisor acknowledged that "it is likely that stormwater structures of various sorts will be connected to the storm line.”

      "Likely"? How about definitely! Where else could those stormsewers be connected, as well as the ones at North Front Street?

      So "dry" really means "wet" (until it's more useful to call it something else). In Hudson, adjectives are situational.

  2. For the 30 years that I have observed, storm/sewage use to flow out on the north side of Dock Street. Then the city spent $15 million on their "upgrade." Now it spews out on the south side of Dock half way up Front Street. In the last 3 years 2 sink holes were caused and they needed very costly repair work.

    The engineering firm who designed this boondoggle should be held accountable.

  3. 1.

    Superintendent Perry answered the resident by noting that when conditions are droughty, water sitting in sewers becomes "septic." He meant that bacteria like fecal coliform and fecal streptococcus are replicating at such rates that we smell their unpleasant gases at street level.

    The same bacteria are also in streetwater runoff, and also replicate, and also smell.

    When it begins to rain, these bacteria get swept into the treatment plant. In future, however, we plan to divert all runoff into the North Bay and Hudson River. Unfortunately (for our natural waters), that situation won't lend itself to impressive photographs.

    The sentence which begins, "anyone who doesn't think we have a problem with our sewer system" is known as a straw man argument.

    The sentence was even doubly misleading, because along with assigning the adversary a position which no one actually takes (that there is no problem), the sentence sensationalizes the problem to make it look as though Hudson is unique, or even particularly bad.

    Hudson is far from unique, and in the larger scheme of things our "problem" is not only not very bad, it is far less worrying than the proposed solution. The status quo is clearly preferable when you consider the alternative, which the writer of the Facebook comment has yet to understand (explained below).

    When it comes to Combined Sewer Overflows, all municipalities must choose the lesser of two or more evils, which is precisely what the State Environmental Quality Review Act expects us to do and even helps us to do. (In Hudson, officials reflexively circumvent SEQRA, and then sensationalize towards the outcome they personally desire.)

  4. 2.

    Consider a contaminant like Total Suspended Solids, which is particularly damaging to the aquatic ecosystems found in wetlands.

    In an average year you'd need 50 times the annual number of sewer overflows to equal a year's worth of the same contaminants in the runoff of the urban surfaces north of Warren Street.

    If we exaggerate the volume of annual overflows to 3 million gallons, then you'd need 35 times the whole City's annual overflows to equal this same contaminant in the annual runoff.

    Take the 2nd Ward alone, in an average year of approximately 2 million gallons of overflow. It would take 12 times all of the City's annual sewer overflows to equal the suspended solids from the 2nd Ward's street surfaces. That's just one Ward. (The 2nd Ward would see the first phase of the long-term sewer separation project.)

    The proposed plan is to divert all of the north side's runoff directly into the North Bay in order to alleviate the storage limits of a system that resulted in today's sewer overflow.

    But this plan would solve a problem that is - from the above examples respectively - 1/50th, 1/35th, and 1/12 the size of the larger problem.

    These numbers are based on the City's annual, reported runoff volumes, and on the average amounts of contaminants in streetwater which was provided to the City by its consultant, Delaware Engineering.

    For EVERY contaminant studied, from sediments, to nutrient loading, to coliform bacteria, to heavy metals, the pollutants in the north side's annual streetwater runoff far exceed those in the entire City's annual sewer overflows.

    For ALL of these same contaminants, their estimated weights in the runoff of the 2nd Ward alone exceeded the same contaminants in the whole City's reported sewer overflows for 2013 and 1014 respectively.

    So while it's sensational to see photos of a sewer overflow problem which no one actually denies is a problem, it's a lot better to be knowledgeable about the facts, which means taking in the whole picture of something that can't be solved neatly.

    Only by taking a reasonable, rational approach can we recognize the wisest choice from among a bunch of imperfect alternatives. When it comes to the City's sewer plans, would it surprise anyone to learn that we haven't tried that approach yet?

    What a world it would be if it were composed only of straightforward problems and simple solutions, which is too often the false impression generated by sensational photos.

    1. Sorry, I meant to say (6 paragraphs up):

      "These numbers are based on the City's annual, reported SEWER OVERFLOW volumes, and on the average amounts of contaminants in streetwater ... "