Human error caused Niagara Falls blob, agency says

Aug 4, 2017

Local officials say human error triggered the smelly black blob that appeared recently near the world-famous Niagara Falls.

In a lengthy statement, the Niagara Falls Water Board says the problem arose as a sedimentation basin was cleaned on July 29. An employee monitoring the operation was called away -- and returned to find that the water being pumped out was discolored.

"Apparently around the same time, several telephone calls about the appearance of dark water in the Lower Niagara River were received by the wastewater treatment plant ... " the water board said in a statement released late Friday. 

The discharge caused a furor because it came on a summer weekend -- the peak of tourist season -- and was clearly visible. Much of the black water engulfed the dock of the Maid of the Mist tour boats.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating the discharge. According to state regulations, such discharges cannot adversely effect the color, order and natural conditions of water bodies.

"The violation of the state’s water quality standards are subject to fines, but this investigation is very much ongoing right now so it’s hard to say exactly what any enforcement actions could be levied against the water treatment board," Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Sean Mahar said last week.

At a news conference last week, water board Chairman Dan O'Callaghan said more wastewater was released into the Niagara River than expected, WBFO reported.

"Carbon filters at the Niagara Falls wastewater plant are needed to flush periodically to keep the systems properly operating," he said Thursday, according to WBFO. "That's how the systems work properly and retained and maintained. ... Because of the carbon filters, the backwash is black."

James M. Perry, the board's administrative services director, told the Buffalo News, "The way it discolored the water was not a usual occurrence. Usually what happens, is they backflush to a certain level, and when the water starts to discolor, they stop pumping."

At that point, the rest of the material trapped in the carbon beds is vacuumed out, Perry added.