This country has made great progress in cleaning up its waterways over the last four decades. Conservatives like to pretend it's not true, but there is absolutely nothing wrong from a strong property rights perspective in stopping both public and private actors from dumping their waste in waterways that don't belong to them.
The problem today with the EPA is not the fact that they protect the quality of the commons (e.g. air and water) but that
- New detection technologies at the parts per billion resolution have allowed them to identify and obsess over threats that are essentially non-existent
- Goals have changed such that many folks use air and water protection as a cover or excuse for their real goal, which is halting development and sabotaging capitalism and property rights
What might surprise Brougham and many other New Yorkers who were appalled by last summer’s sewage discharge is that there’s nothing particularly unusual about it. Almost every big rainstorm causes raw sewage to flow into the city’s rivers. New York is one in a handful of older American cities — Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are others — that suffer from poor sewer infrastructure leading to Combined Sewer Overflows, or CSOs. New York City has spent $1.6 billion over the last decade trying to curb CSOs, but the problem is so pervasive in the city that no one is sure whether these efforts will make much of a difference.
CSOs occur because the structure of New York City’s sewage system often can’t cope with the volume of sewage flowing through it. Under the city’s streets, thousands of drains, manholes and plumbing systems converge into a few sewage mains. These pipes can handle the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that the five boroughs produce on a typical day — about as much water as would be generated by a 350-year-long shower. But whenever the pipes gather more water than usual — such as during a rain- or snowstorm — the pumps at the city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants can’t keep up with the flow. Rather than backing up into streets and homes, untreated sewage systematically bypasses the plants and heads straight into the waterways.*
In this way, 27 to 30 billion gallons of untreated sewage enter New York City waterways each year via hundreds of CSO outfalls, says Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper, a New York clean water advocacy group. Musegaas says he finds it especially upsetting that city officials don’t effectively warn the thousands of people like Brougham who use the waterways and could encounter harmful bacteria during overflow events.
I thought this correction was funny:
This story originally read that New York City’s sewage system could “barely” handle the city’s wastewater, an untrue statement. As long as there’s little surplus stormwater entering the system, it’s adequate to handle the flow.
Oh, so everything is OK, as long as it does not rain. Which it does 96 days a year. I am just sure this reporter would say that BP's offshore safety systems were "adequate" if it only spilled oil 96 days of the year.