A small city in New York faces water infrastructure issues similar to the ones making national headlines in Jackson, Mississippi.
Mount Vernon has had water infrastructure problems for decades. In 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York slapped the city with a permanent injunction for not addressing sewage-discharge issues, and for violating Environmental Protection Agency administrative notices.
Adrienne Hollis, vice president of environmental justice, health, community revitalization, and conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, said the city’s sewer system has gone without significant investment for too long.
“In the past three years alone, they’ve had 900 sewer backups,” Hollis pointed out. “I think it’s just a matter of time. You have clay sewer pipes that are designed in three-foot sections, and they’re breaking. So, I think we’re going to see this in Mount Vernon and in a bunch of other cities where infrastructure hasn’t gotten the attention that it so badly needs.”
According to a National Wildlife Federation report, cost estimates for upgrading the aging sewer system are from $125 million to $200 million. This year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state will invest $150 million toward improving Mount Vernon’s water infrastructure, which should remedy the longtime issues.
With the sewage-system upgrade now a priority, there is also a concern about the impact of flooding. Earlier this summer, Mount Vernon’s infrastructure problems led to massive flooding in the area. Hollis is concerned overall, the level of flooding might worsen with the effects of climate change.
“Not only will we have storm-related flooding, but we’re going to have, as sea level rises, we’re going to see chronic flooding,” Hollis asserted. “And in communities that are located in low-lying areas, or in areas with insufficient infrastructure to handle that overflow, we’re going to see this and worse.”
The homes in Mount Vernon affected by the flooding and other sewer-related issues could be eligible for the Mount Vernon Healthy Homes Program, a $3 million pilot program for free repairs to reduce environmental hazards, and make high-risk properties more resilient to weather and infrastructure problems.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.