Departments Feature

Seneca Nation Puts City of Olean on Notice for Clean Water Act Violations

Notice Letter Triggers 60-Day Waiting Period For City To Rectify Ongoing Dangerous Discharges from Waste Water Treatment Plant

ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA, N.Y. – Continuing its long history of protecting the health and safety of its citizens and defending Mother Earth from environmental harm, the Seneca Nation recently notified the City of Olean of its intent to take legal action to address a dangerous pattern of harmful discharges from the City’s waste water treatment plant into the Ohi:yo’ (Allegheny River), which runs through the Nation’s Allegany Territory.

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. According to the Nation’s letter, the discharges are either still occurring or are likely to occur in the future.

“Ohi:yo’ is part of our Nation, part of our lives and part of our heritage, and we will not allow our people and our future generations to be put at risk,” said Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels. “Our connection to and dependence on our natural resources and important life-giving and life-sustaining resources like Ohi:yo’ must be protected from harmful actions. We will not turn a blind eye to this situation, and we demand our neighbors do the right thing and protect the river and the people impacted by their actions.”

The City operates the Olean Waste Water 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. The most recent discharge in excess of the limits specified by the permit occurred on March 7, 2022. On that date, approximately 48,000 gallons of untreated sewage was discharged into the Allegany River from a sewage lift station located at 411 S. 4th Street, Olean, New York. Effluent from the discharge contained 310 CFU/100mL of enterococci, which exceeds the reporting limit of 61 CFU/mL. In addition, E. coli, fecal coliform and nitrates were detected in effluent samples.

Because of the chronic nature of the City’s violation of its discharge permit, the Nation believes it is more than reasonable that the illegal discharges will continue, impacting the health, safety and well-being of countless people who utilize and depend upon the river, which is a source of drinking water for millions of people, from the Southern Tier of New York down to Pittsburgh.

The Seneca Nation intends to sue for all Clean Water Act violations and is seeking civil penalties for any additional violations discovered in the future – including during the course of litigation – as well as any that might occur subsequent to the notice delivered to the City. In addition, the Nation intends to seek injunctive and remedial relief to halt the continuing illegal discharges, as well as costs, attorney and expert witness fees, and such additional relief as the court determines may be appropriate.

In 2021, the Nation took similar action against Clean Water Act violations by the Village of Portville to address persistent sewage discharge violations. The Nation was also a vocal opponent of a controversial proposed wastewater treatment facility for fracking water at the headwaters of the river near Coudersport, Pennsylvania in 2018. Plans for the facility were voted down.

“Clean, safe water is a basic human right, which should never be put in question,” President Pagels said. “The river must be preserved so that it can sustain lives in the Seneca Nation and in neighboring communities for generations to come.”