While an investigation into the operations of the Niagara Falls water treatment plant continues, the DEC said it’s clear an embarrassing black sewage discharge into the Niagara River earlier this summer was the result of operational deficiencies that led to human error.

The DEC said the July 29 incident, coupled with additional sewer overflow incidents in the following weeks, constitutes a violation of state law, regulations and the facility’s operating permit.

The agency, which is conducting the investigation under the direction of the governor’s office, said its findings are substantiated by a Niagara Falls Water Board report, submitted at the beginning of this month. As a result, it has proposed an “executed consent order” with a number of stipulations to hold the board accountable.

Among them, the board would be required to pay a $50,000 fine, update all operational protocols and retrain all its employees. Furthermore, so-called black water discharges would no longer be allowed, and until the necessary steps were taken, no discharges could take place without DEC supervision.

“In short, we demand that the board make fixing this plant and ending further illegal discharges a top priority, just as the state is making this a top priority,” DEC Executive Deputy Commissioner Ken Lynch said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was in Niagara Falls for the announcement today, said the investigation showed very basic operational breaches. He called it inexcusable for a state that’s spent billions focusing on clean water. The governor said it also undid years of work by the state to promote the city’s tourism and economic development.

“This incident produces a picture, the black water picture, that goes viral. It went all over the world and it is again, the exact opposite of everything we’ve been doing for years,” Cuomo said.

The water board does need to sign off on the consent decree and the timeline moving forward will be based on how quickly it operates. Cuomo said if the board does not cooperate, the DEC will replace the plant operator.

“As the NFWB has not yet had the opportunity to review the draft consent order referenced by Governor Cuomo, we cannot therefore comment on its contents; however, the board does look forward to assessing the documents and will subsequently work with the DEC to improve plant performance and prevent any re-occurrences,” the board said in a statement.

It continued to say it expects to engage in an “ongoing, collaborative dialogue regarding the terms of the draft consent.”