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As summer approaches, is Niagara Falls ready to avert another discharge disaster?

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File photo/courtesy Maid of the Mist Twitter account
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It was the black blob that gave a black eye to Niagara Falls, New York last summer. A discharge of wastewater near the Maid of the Mist docks very quickly gained international attention. The city's water authority has taken steps to address what happened. The question WBFO asked a representative of the Niagara Falls Water Board: As summer approaches and with it an increase in tourism, how prepared is the city to avoid a similar water incident?

The discharge last summer had been described as a result of maintenance at one of the city's basins. Niagara Falls Water Board spokesperson Matt Davison told WBFO the organization has worked on the basin in question, along with some other infrastructure, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and private contractors.

"A really important step is that there was a change to the procedure for how they're going to de-water Sedimentation Basin 5," Davison explained. "Any time they do that in the future, they'll now have DEC oversight for it, just to ensure any future de-watering activity is done under proper protocol."

Not all discharges into the Niagara River could necessarily be helped. On some occasions last year, excessive amounts of rainfall created more water than sewers could handle. Both Davison and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster conceded that even with the changes implemented, much more work needs to be done on an aging water infrastructure.

"That's going to be a multi-year undertaking," said Dyster last week. "But it's good to see that they're taking their responsibilities and that they're trying to do things in anticipation of the tourist season to avoid a repetition of what happened at the end of July of last year."

Dyster said one thing last summer's incident showed was how much people still care about Niagara Falls as a natural wonder of the world. Leaders on the American side of the falls, as part of redevelopment along the tourist district, have been revisiting the idea of promoting green space as part of the tourist attraction.

"People who have been here are going back and telling people what a beautiful place it is. If it seems like something is spoiling that natural beauty, they get agitated pretty quickly," Dyster said. "I think that's a force we can turn to our advantage, if we take care of the environment here and market ourselves as a cleaner, greener side of Niagara Falls."

Other water infrastructural work going on in the city is a two-year project to replace up to 300 lead pipes.

"The way the process will work is the Water Board will look at their list of leak repairs and start to attack that list," Davison said. "That will then allow them to work through a number of different homes and locations. And as they get in there to make those pipe replacements, take out the lead pipes and replace those with newer units."

The project is being funded by a more than half-million dollar grant from New York State.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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