Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 21, 2013

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Before the first sewer lines were laid down in the City of Lockport, the Eighteenmile Creek was used by residents as one avenue to depose of wastes; residential outhouses and a communal garbage landfill were other means. Manufacturing plants also had a big impact on the creek with many disposing of their waste by-products directly into the creek.

The ongoing abuse of the creek made for a very unpleasant smelling and appearing scene; so much so, that the city of Lockport decided to enclose, cover and contain the creek underground within the city boundaries. This made conditions more livable but the abuse to the creek continued.

It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century, with the population growing, construction of better streets and roads for the new invention of the automobile, that there was insight for the construction of underground water and sewer lines.

The sewer system built not only was designed to take away household sanitary waste but also manufacturing waste and storm water flow. Because the sewer system can receive both sanitary and storm flow, it is called a combined sewer system. Storm receivers were built within the street / curb construction to prevent and alleviate flooding and ponding on the streets after a storm event.

With a storm event, the volume of water can be tenfold from that of a normal non-storm event day. A wastewater treatment plant is designed to handle a certain maximum flow for proper, full treatment. With this in mind, the sewer system can also only handle a maximum amount of flow. If the maximum amount was exceeded within the sewer lines, there were many “relief points” built throughout the system. These “relief points” are called “CSO”s (Combined Sewer Overflow) and are designed to spill the excess amount directly into a nearby waterway.

There will be more about that next week, when I discuss some of the things that happened with last month’s incredible downpour that overwhelmed our system.

As the years continued to go by, the practice of some industries to discharge directly into the creek continued until as late as the 1960s. With the emergence of the environmental conservation movement of the 60s and the call for accountability for the care of nature, the Clean Water Act of 1972 was passed by congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. This was the first national call for the pro-active care of all the waterways in the United States.

With this law came federal monies for municipalities like Lockport to enlarge and acquire the latest treatment technologies for a more stringent cleaning of our waste waters. Also empowered by this law were the agencies such as the DEC and EPA and Health Dept. to regulate, govern and oversee for the proper treatment of waste water and to hold those responsible for treatment accountable.

Since the Clean Water Act of 1972, regulations and requirements issued by the regulatory agencies have become more and more stringent over the years. It can be a challenge for treatment plants to keep up with the new regulations when dealing with an older plant and sewer system.

The ideal thing for the city of Lockport and many other municipalities with old combined sewer systems is to be able to separate the sewer system into a sanitary system and storm system so that they are no longer treated in the same manner. To separate the two at one time is not practical or could the tax payers of the city be able to shoulder such a burden. 

In recent years, there is an ongoing effort to close all of the CSOs within the old sewer system. Of the original 32 CSOs, only 12 are still in existence and of the 12 only three are seen to sometimes activate during extreme high storm flow, the other nine will be in the process of being closed in the near future. Money is the key to any changes that have, and will be made in the treatment of wastewater over the coming years. Balancing what can be done with what we have is the solution and resolve.

Doug Sibolski is superintendent and chief operator of th City of Lockport's wastewater treatment plant.