What does 2.5 billion gallons of raw sewage smell like?
What does it taste like? What does it feel like on your skin?
What harmful effects does it have on your body when you swallow it or swim in it?
What does 2.5 billion gallons of raw sewage do to the fish and the plants and the other wildlife in the environment?
You probably don’t want to know. No, you definitely don’t want to know.
But that’s how much untreated sewage wound up in the Hudson and Mohawk rivers in just the past year, mostly from damaged and overburdened treatment facilities along the two local rivers.
Statewide, more than 2,500 discharges were reported in the past year, resulting in more than 6 billion gallons of waste being released into waterways across New York.
A report from the state comptroller in 2017 estimated the state would need about $61 billion over the next 20 years in investments to its drinking water systems. Reports from the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health estimate the need over the next 20 years at $38 billion for critical repairs and replacements to drinking water infrastructure and $36 billion to wastewater infrastructure — nearly $75 billion.
Much of the responsibility for those upgrades and repairs falls to local governments and local property taxpayers.
Clearly it’s a very expensive problem that affects the health and quality of life of all New Yorkers, and state funding should be a high fiscal priority.
Combined with rollbacks in environmental projections from the Trump administration, New York state’s waterways are in a particular state of peril.
That’s why state lawmakers should heed the calls of environmental groups and other public officials to include at least a $2.5 billion lump sum in the upcoming state budget for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements through the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
Prominent environmental- and good-government groups around the state — including Environmental Advocates of New York, Riverkeeper, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Food and Water Watch, Save the Sound and Cornell Cooperative Extension — say they fear the $2.5 billion proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his executive budget in January for such projects might not fully materialize.
That’s because this year’s proposed state budget would only ensure that $500 million would be allocated, with the rest of the money promised over a five-year span but not guaranteed.
While environmental groups have said they’re generally happy with the amount of money that’s been awarded over the last few years through the state’s 2015 Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, the waiting list of eligible projects that still need to be funded is long, and the need is urgent.
And as long as large portions of New York’s aging water and wastewater treatment system go unrepaired, the state’s rivers, streams, lakes and ponds will continue to be vulnerable to pollution from unanticipated sewage discharges.
The $2.5 billion allocation would represent less than 1.5 percent of this year’s proposed $175 billion state budget.
Clearly, clean water, good health and a secure environment are worth at least that.