LTE: Fund the EPA

The following letter to the editor was published in the Register-Star on September 5, 2019, and was written by Michael Chameides, member of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors.

Fund the EPA

During one particularly heavy rainstorm this July, the city of Hudson spilled almost two million gallons of sewage into the Hudson River. Spills like these are routine up and down the Hudson, wherever our cities’ older sewer systems channel wastewater and stormwater into the same pipes. When snowmelt or summer thunderstorms overwhelm these systems, they release raw or partially treated sewage straight into our waterways.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that more than two billion gallons of sewage entered the Hudson last year. Almost twenty million came from the city of Hudson.

Combined sewer overflows are an expensive and escalating challenge for New York State. At the same time that our sewer systems are aging beyond their intended lifespans, climate change is increasing the stress on them by intensifying our rainstorms. The infrastructure updates necessary to keep sewage out of the Hudson River will cost almost five billion dollars. Slowly but surely, New York is addressing the problem.

The state’s budget for next year includes historic levels of funding for water infrastructure. The city of Kingston, whose sewers, like Hudson’s, overflow into the Hudson Estuary, is moving forward with plans to separate its stormwater and wastewater systems with help from a $600,000 grant from the state.

While New York is taking steps toward cleaner waters, however, the Trump administration is taking steps that threaten that progress. The administration has proposed a federal budget that decimates funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the deepest cuts — totaling $874 million—are to two revolving loan programs that support wastewater and drinking water improvements in the 50 states. These loan programs are New York’s biggest source of federal funding for clean water projects. Since their inception, they have contributed more than $6 billion to New York, which the state has leveraged into billions more. If cities like Hudson and Kingston are to complete their much-needed sewer upgrades — if we wish to see less sewage dumped into our rivers, and not more — we cannot allow the state revolving funds to be diminished. New York is relying on Senators Schumer and Gillibrand as well as Congressman Delgado to protect these funds in the upcoming budget negotiations.