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Malfunctioning sewer line overwhelms damaged treatment plant

JC Sewer Line WEB

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — A malfunctioning component on a sewer line spanning the Susquehanna River continues to inundate the Binghamton Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant with increased flows two months after the issue was first discovered.

Johnson City Director of Public Services Joshua Holland said a malfunctioning check valve on the four-foot diameter pipe is causing river water to enter the system, which ultimately feeds in the sewage treatment plant.

“So what's going on now is when the river rises, there's a leak that's coming back through the check valve on that overflow causing river water to inundate the system and go across to the [terminal pump station],” Holland said.

With the river water entering the pipe, Holland said the flows going through the four-foot diameter sewer line have reached 15 million gallons per day. The entire treatment plant took in average flows of around 18 million gallons per day in 2021.

The plant itself is still hampered after a component of a concrete basin burst around the same time as the incident with the Johnson City line, causing millions of gallons of partially treated wastewater to flood part of the facility. Since then, the treatment plant has struggled to control contaminant levels going into the Susquehanna – some of which are around double their permitted levels.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued a notice of violation to the Village of Johnson City for exceeding its wastewater permits due to the increased flow resulting from the malfunction.

“There is no indication that untreated waste was discharged to the environment,” a DEC spokesperson wrote in a statement to WSKG.

The DEC is giving Johnson City until Oct. 1 to submit a report evaluating and implementing corrective actions to recover from the malfunction, as well as an operations and maintenance plan for the sewer line moving forward.

Holland said it could be several more weeks until the river drops to a level where contractors can assess the check valve. He hopes to replace it over the summer.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.