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Health Warning. The Seneca Nation is warning the public of another dangerous discharge from the City of Olean Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Ohi:yo’ (Allegheny River), which runs through the Nation’s Allegany Territory.

On Wednesday, April 3, the City of Olean Wastewater Treatment Plant reported two overflows of untreated sewage into the river, due to heavy rains in the area. The first overflow occurred at approximately 12:28 p.m. and lasted for almost two hours (110 minutes). A second overflow was reported at 7:59 p.m., lasting for 68 minutes. The two overflows accounted for approximately 186,000 gallons of untreated sewage discharged into the river.

The Seneca Nation’s Emergency Management department is advising everyone to cease any recreational activities in or around the river for the next few days.

“It is unfortunate and unconscionable that this ongoing threat to the health and safety of Ohi:yo’ and the people who live along the river is allowed to continue,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. said. “Dangerous overflows and illegal discharges into the river from the Olean plant have been a persistent problem for years, yet the City fails to address the problem. The Seneca people and our neighbors along Ohi:yo’ should not be forced to live with these unhealthy conditions and attacks on our valued ecosystem.”

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The river is a source of drinking water for millions of people, from the southern tier of New York down to Pittsburgh. The City operates the Olean Wastewater Treatment Plant at 174 S. 19th Street. The plant discharges sewage, stormwater and/or wastewater into the river pursuant to a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. Discharges in excess of the City’s discharge permit have been a chronic occurrence, and have been subject of numerous warnings and citations from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

In 2001, NYSDEC issued an Administrative Order of Consent for the city to upgrade its wastewater treatment facilities in order to stop discharges into the river. To date, the city has been unable to comply with the order, which has subsequently been revised multiple times to allow the city additional time. Currently, Olean has until 2042 to become fully compliant with the order and the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

In 2022, the Nation sent a notice of intent to initiate civil action against the City pursuant to Section 301 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) for discharging pollutants, including enterococci, among other things, in excess of the effluent limits on a regular and continuing basis. The Nation has even offered to assist the city in seeking grant funding sources to help fund and complete the long-needed repairs, which the city has declined. 

“Ongoing warnings and citations without an effective remedy only increase the likelihood of additional discharges and further threaten public health and safety,” President Armstrong said. “Our people and our many neighbors along Ohi:yo’ deserve more than fruitless conversations and toothless citations. Don't push this situation down the road for another two decades. Fix it now.”

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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