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The Michael C. O'Laughlin Municipal Water Plant on Buffalo Avenue.

Plans to upgrade the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant are getting a big financial boost from the state of New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state will invest $13.5 million - an amount to be matched by the Niagara Falls Water Board - to support immediate projects aimed at addressing water quality impairments caused by the aging wastewater treatment plant.

Introduced as one of Cuomo's 2018 State of the State priorities, the state is directing the Niagara Falls Water Board to immediately undertake the projects as required by the binding terms of a consent order with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Protecting water quality and our natural resources is essential to the health of our residents and the future growth of our communities," Cuomo said in a release issued by his office. "These investments will help the Niagara Falls Water Board modernize its aging water infrastructure and prevent future pollution of one our state's most treasured waterways."

According to Cuomo's office, engineers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation continue to oversee the Niagara Falls Water Board and are reviewing additional longer-term options to fully upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. The improvement projects funded by this investment are consistent with the longer-term infrastructure improvements that are currently in development and under consideration, according to Cuomo.

The projects to upgrade the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant include:

• improving primary treatment systems and equipment;

• making improvements to the sedimentation basin and related equipment;

• rehabilitating the Gorge Pumping Station;

• replacing screens and equipment to remove grit;

• upgrading the dewatering system;

• replacing the granular activated carbon system and filter support equipment;

• completing critical repairs and improvements to the electrical, lighting, and heating and ventilation systems;

• optimizing disinfectant dosage and

• replacing blower equipment and piping.

Plans for the upgrades follow the now-infamous "black water" incident in 2017 during which stinky black water was discharged into the lower Niagara River.

"Niagara Falls is a national and natural treasure and thanks to the Governor's leadership, today's investment to upgrade the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment plant is a major step forward to protect this irreplaceable resource," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "DEC will continue to oversee the Niagara Falls water board's efforts to advance these projects as directed and improve the quality and reliability of its wastewater treatment plant and collection system, as we work across the state to ensure municipalities have the resources to improve aging water infrastructure through the historic $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act and $300 million annual Environmental Protection Fund."

Cuomo said that at his direction the DEC has taken aggressive action in response to the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant's discharge of black water into the Niagara River that occurred in July 2017. The discharge was caused by the wastewater treatment plant's excessive accumulation of solids/sludge, failure to follow proper maintenance procedures, and a lack of operator training.

Since the incident, the DEC has provided rigorous oversight of the Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB) as they implemented a number of immediate measures, directed by the state, to improve operations and maintenance at the treatment plant, resulting in a substantial reduction in the discharge of pollution. These measures included repairs to sludge processing equipment, retention of an outside contractor to process sludge, improved sludge handling procedures, additional staff, and improved staff training. Following the implementation of these actions, there have been no discharges of dark-colored effluent since October 2017.

The December 2017 consent order executed with the NFWB required numerous engineering evaluations and reports to improve plant operations. Among other actions, the consent order required the NFWB to retain an engineering firm to evaluate the conversion of the existing carbon treatment plant to a more effective biological treatment system. That evaluation is ongoing.