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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 20, 2007

As Senator Wraps Up Ninth 62 County Tour, Schumer Reveals: Feds Turning Back On NYS' Decaying Sewer Infrasturcture - Fed Funding For Wastewater System At An All-Time Low

Completing 62 County Tour for Record Ninth Year in a Row, Schumer in Rensselaer County Reveals Feds Starving NYS of Funding to Upgrade Crumbling Sewer Infrastructure

Ancient, Insufficient Sewage Capacity has Hamstrung Nearly $700 Million in New Economic Projects in Rensselaer County, Leaving Local Taxpayers to Get Socked by Soaring Costs to Fix Dilapidated Sewer System

To Assist Communities Across the State, Schumer Announces Plan to Boost Federal Funding For Sewage Infrastructure

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer completed a record ninth straight 62 county tour in Rensselaer County, where he blasted the federal government for turning its back on funding New York State’s crumbling infrastructure that is jeopardizing regional economic growth and public and environmental health. Counties spanning the entire state, including the Capital Region, are suffering from an aging sewer system that is unable to accommodate new economic development projects. In Rensselaer County, nearly $ 700 million in new projects are hamstrung due to existing local sewer and water systems unable to handle them.


Schumer revealed that federal funding for improving sewer systems is at an all-time low and unveiled a plan to increase federal funding to help modernize the state’s deteriorating sewage system.


"Unfortunately, over the past several decades the federal government has retreated from its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, leaving communities across New York State with a deteriorating sewer system that can stifle economic growth, damage residential property and is hazardous to the environmental and public health,” said Senator Schumer.  “This summer, the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota was a tragic reminder of what transpires when the federal government turns a blind eye to the needs of older states like New York State. Just like the aging bridges that dot our state, our sewer infrastructure is steadily decaying and it’s high time the federal government upholds its end of the deal and works with state and local governments to maintain first-rate water treatment systems. Local residents shouldn’t be stuck footing the bill alone.”


Communities across New York State are currently faced with dilapidated sewer systems that will require a significant level of funding to upgrade. Cities, towns and suburbs in the state rely on a sewer infrastructure that, in many cases, was originally built in the early 20th century and have since then only undergone modest upgrades. Communities suffer from leaky and overflowing pipes that have the capability to spew untreated sewage into residential homes and local bodies of waters like the Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, rivers and creeks.


The deteriorating sewer infrastructure also threatens future economic growth. Communities are now faced with the threat of government agencies placing moratoriums on future development unless they upgrade their sewer system.


In Rensselaer County, nearly $700 million in new economic projects are hamstrung by a sewer and water system that lacks the capability to accommodate new buildings and construction. The Town of East Greenbush in Rensselaer County is currently trying to complete at least three large development projects that total approximately $280 million in investment, but authorities are concerned an outdated sewer and water infrastructure will be unable to handle the projects.  


The Village at Temple Farm is pursuing a commercial, retail and residential project representing approximately $150 million in investment.  A second parcel of property on Temple Lane is slated for future development that could approach $100 million, and Regeneron, a pharmaceutical R&D firm located in the town, is planning a $30 million renovation.  But in order to bring them to fruition the town needs to make major improvements to their aging sewer and water infrastructure.  


In addition, the neighboring communities of North Greenbush and the City of Rensselaer each have large development projects that total an additional $400 million. 


Since all three communities share the same water distribution infrastructure, the projects place an enormous strain on the already outdated system. East Greenbush is currently considering bonding $12 million to fund the major overhauls, and has already worked successfully with New York State Senator Joseph Bruno, Assemblyman Ron Canestrari and Rensselaer County to ease the burden on local taxpayers. Still, local governments will be hard-pressed to single-handily finance such overhauls.  


Schumer today warned that the sewer structure problems in Rensselaer County are reflective of a crisis that is afflicting the entire state, where business leaders and companies are eager to expand but new development is hamstrung by outdated sewer and water infrastructure systems.


The environmental and public health hazards posed by the aging sewer systems are also serious. Groundwater degradation has resulted as contaminants leak into the soil and waterways from failing treatment plants, pipes and septic tanks. Pathogens and viruses are released into waterways, affecting local wildlife and fisheries and threatening drinking water. 


Compounding the financial problems associated with upgrading sewer systems in Rensselaer County and across the state have been starved of adequate federal funding to repair its system. The state has seen its funding slashed in recent years. A 2002 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that every year, money available for municipal wastewater infrastructure falls $13 billion short of what states and local governments need in order to maintain working systems and protect the health of citizens and the environment. Federal funding for wastewater infrastructure has decreased 55% since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. With communities striving to meet new EPA guidelines, the need for federal funding is now greater than ever. 


The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that New York State has $20.42 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs.


In light of the drastic decline in federal funding for municipal sewage projects, Schumer today announced his plan for addressing New York’s crippled sewage infrastructure:


  • Schumer will sponsor legislation in the Senate, S.836 The Water Quality Investment Act of 2007, to increase federal grant funding for municipal sewage infrastructures by providing funding for upgrades of sewage treatment plans across the state. It has already passed the House.


  • Schumer announced his support for H.R.720, the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007, which would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to authorize appropriations for state water pollution control revolving funds. This is a $14 billion low interest loan program for wastewater infrastructure improvements. It was referred to Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in March.


  • Schumer this week sent a letter Jim Nussle, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, pressuring him to increase funding for water infrastructure in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 .


  • Schumer in the New Year will also push the Senate Appropriations Committee to increase funding for sewage projects, and specifically citing the precipitous drop in federal funding since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.


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