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Concern surrounding Chemung River sewage spill

ELMIRA, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - Omar Rivera and his son came to the Grove Street boat launch along the Chemung River from out of town today. 

"We were going to come down and enjoy the river and get a little morning workout with the stand-up paddle boards," Rivera said. 

But their plans changed once they heard over 1 million gallons of raw sewage had been dumped into the river on Monday. According to a New York state alert, the sewage was discharged from 3 different locations along Water St. in Elmira: 301 W. Water St., 798 E. Water St., and 950 E. Water St. The grand total is estimated to be 1,257,000 gallons of sewage. 

That has residents concerned. 

"I mean.. is it safe? There's diseases involved with this stuff. I think it's a concern...There was people in here swimming all day...There's kids in here, there's babies, and dogs," Rivera said. 

As you can see in the video, there were a few cars in the parking lot of the Dunn Field boat launch. So although it doesn't appear that the spillage is enough to deter people from boating and fishing activities, but that could just be because they don't know anything about it. That was the case with most people I spoke with today.

The 2013 Sewage Right to Know Act requires untreated discharges to be reported publicly, but you have to sign up to receive those alerts, which of course, many community members don't know about either. 

"It would have been nice to know just because we come here all the time," Sabrina Turco. 

Fortunately the rain that lasted for a decent portion of the afternoon kept people out of the river for the most part, but the state alert said heavy rainfall was the cause of the spillage in the first place. 

Elmira is part of a combined sewage system, meaning it collects rainwater, domestic and industrial waste all in the same pipe. These systems are designed to overflow occasionally, during periods of heavy rainfall, and discharge that excess wastewater into nearby bodies of water, like the Chemung River. These are called Combined Sewage Overflows and they contain not only storm water but also untreated waste, debris, and even toxic materials...and they're a major public health concern. 

But Elmira hasn't been experiencing rainfall heavier than usual, according to our meteorologist Rob Lindenmuth. 

That has many people wondering, and demanding more answers. 

Of course, with the July 4th holiday we were unable to reach the Elmira Water Board, the Chemung County Sewer District, or the Chemung County Health Department regarding health and environmental concerns. We will follow up again tomorrow.

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