Environmental Focus on Kingston: Give Me A “C”, “S”, “O”!

This year instead of a summer, we’ve had a monsoon season.

On average Kingston receives 47.48 inches of rain a year, with May being the wettest month. This summer alone we’ve been deluged with roughly 17 inches of the wet stuff. While my friends are all bemoaning the loss of blight ridden tomatoes, I’ve been worrying about a problem that runs a little deeper. Yup, I’ve been thinking about combined sewer overflow systems (CSO’s).

Kingston’s antiquated sewer system is a CSO. They were all the rage and considered the newest and greatest in waste flow management along the eastern sea board following the Civil War. The EPA defines these types of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) as “remnants of the country’s early infrastructure and so are typically found in older communities.” They estimate there to be roughly 772 CSO communities in the US today.

A CSO was designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater all in the same pipe. This slurry of toxic sludge is transported to a sewage treatment plant. Periods of heavy rainfalls or quickly melting snow exacerbate the volume of storm water runoff so that it exceeds the capacity of the system. Excess, untreated wastewater instead empties directly into nearby bodies of water – in our case, the Rondout Creek. Also, because of their age, CSO’s often fail or collapse at an accelerated rate.

The city’s CSO problems have been simmering for decades. In the past, city officials have all but turned a blind eye to our failure prone sewer. However, the growing number of orange and white barrels and yellow sawhorses that adorn sagging or collapsed parts of our streets are too becoming difficult to ignore.

The City of Kingston has been recently cited by the DEC for failure to take aggressive action to stem the flow of raw sewage into our waterways. A fully developed plan was due in September 2007. The DEC has warned that the city faces daily fines of $37,500 until corrective action is taken and a plan produced. As a result the Kingston Common Council has approved the borrowing of $93,000 to hire Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. to complete the necessary study, which must be done during the rainy season.

As immense as the CSO issues are that face our community, the average citizen can do plenty to assist with storm water abatement. In the next ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS ON KINGSTON we’ll discuss the variety of ways this can be achieved.

DID YOU KNOW: What can YOU do?

The city of Kingston has an ordinance that prohibits downspouts to be connected to the sewer system. City ordinance A407-106 states “No person shall discharge or cause to be discharged any stormwater, surface water, groundwater, roof runoff, subsurface drainage or unpolluted industrial process waters to any sanitary sewer.” You can read the rest of the ordinance HERE. Scroll down to the appendix and open Chapter A407: Plumbing Code Administration. You’ll find the entire entry under section A407-106 of Article XVII.

13 thoughts on “Environmental Focus on Kingston: Give Me A “C”, “S”, “O”!”

  1. I see downspouts on the houses in uptown clearly connected to sewer lines… that being said, I would think that is nowhere a significant part of the problem, at least not now. The amount of water that hits the streets, surely that’s the problem.
    Pending the results of a $93K study, seems there would be some description of basic solutions, effectiveness and costs. ’cause I have no idea what is to be done besides duplicating sewer lines, and boy, that can’t be.
    How do other cities handle the problem…

  2. According to information found on the city’s On-Line Assessment Information & Forms, there are a total of 8,724 parcels of land in the city. When you factor in that number with the dire conditions of our overburdened CSO, I think that any amount of stormwater that is environmentally diverted from entering the system is significant.

    But, I agree it will take a variety of solutions on multiple fronts to effectively reduce stormwater runoff. Over time, ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS ON KINGSTON will address some of those ideas and strategies, with hopes of hearing more from people like you.

    In NYS, I am aware of three community programs that work to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff through the use of rain water harvesting systems. Specifically through the use of rain barrels – which is the topic for the next piece. In the meantime, you can learn more about those programs here:

    • Onondaga County Save the Rain
    • Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
    • Queens Rain Barrels

    I personally can’t wait for the results and recommendations of the study currently being done. And you can bet that I’ll do a follow-up to it.

    Thanks for your comment!
    Wilbur Girl

  3. I’d like to know what some of those strategies are… google returned a couple of hits no some towns doing some stuff, etc, a couple of broken links…
    If there is a simple list, that would be good for starters.
    But of the 8,724 parcels of land
    1) how many are amenable to local collection
    2) what should be the assumed gallons/site
    3) what number of gallons so collected would result in gallons not going to the sewer
    But really, it seems totally huge! aka hopeless? Any encouraging words?
    If you have better, more direct links to solutions, as opposed to organization names, others who are searching, they would be welcome

  4. Really like this addition to Kingston Navigator. Very informative and a lot of its dedication comes from Wilbur Girl.
    Many years ago (early 1990’s)when I had some plumbing done on my house, the plumber noticed my downspouts were connected to sewer and he disconnected them due to city ordinances. I had no say. Unfortunately, where I am located the runoff from the downspouts now floods my basement even though we try to divert. Went with a rain barrel collection and it eased the flooding but still infiltrates into basement due to the situation of my house on a hill of limestone. I feel that perhaps ALL houses should be inspected and fined, after an inital warning, if not up to compliance as a way to start being compliant with the DEC. I too have seen homes that are still hooked up especially the older ones. The positive side of my rain barrel is that I have reduced the water bill in watering my plants and yard. Even use the water to wash front porch and steps.

  5. Gerry,

    My fault, I didn’t realize the hyperlinks wouldn’t work in the comment section. Here’s the actual web address for the three NYS community programs I mentioned in my response – you may have to copy and paste them into your browser.

    Onondaga Save the Rain:

    Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper:

    Queens Rain Barrels:

    As for the number of land parcels and their status and average size, I do not know. Sounds like a great question for our city’s assessors office. Can you inquire and report back?

    There is no doubt that the state of our CSO is terminal and the solution(s) will be one of the most bitter pills we’ll have to swallow as a community. We first need to understand the problem. In this way we can educate the community on the direct impact each citizen has on what does and does not go into the system through the choices they make. By doing this we’ll provide a variety of green alternatives that fits the solution and our future.

    Hopeless? Never! I’ve got gallons of hope. In fact, if I had a rain barrel this summer season, I’d have almost 13,000 gallons of hope!


    Wilbur Girl

  6. we should take this off line: gberke@gmail.com
    I don’t have a defintion of the problem, ie, the volumes and frequencies of the incidents… and especially the degree to which it exceeds city capacity.
    I don’t know how many overflow sites there are, ie, where the water is diverted from the sewage to the river, or how many discharge points into the river there are, how big, etc…
    That doesn’t depend on rainy season, and it does give us a clue about the magnitude of the problem.
    The important thing is that the 93K study stops the fines from accumulating… so it sort of pays for itself no matter the outcome, pushes the problem out… like, waiting for the next rainy season…
    yes, let’s go offline with this..

  7. Many thanks to the friend who passed along the following link today:


    The New York Times is launching a series of articles on the worsening of toxic waters in America. It comes complete with a searchable map of known violators by zip code.

    The top two violators for our zip code are the City of Kingston Water Plant and the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Between 2004 and 2007 there have been 31 effluent violations at each facility. The WWTP “has been out of regulatory compliance 12 times out of the past 12 quarters.”

    Of particular interest is the link on each violators page for detailed info from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Be sure to check it out!

  8. How about us down stream on the former twaalfskill creak ( sewer & runoff kill ) some of us are literly having land we pay taxes on beeing washed out to the river . land are kids played on no longer exists and not a sole cares from our wonderful mayor to the enginer the tell us to sell our property. they all get my vote next time.


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