Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Celebrating A Giant Plumbing Device: Last Night's Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Centennial Parade


100 years later, the Gowanus Still Smells

The original Gowanus Canal Celebration to observe the opening of the Flushing Canal was an elaborate affair back in June 21, 1911. Then mayor Mayor Gaynor attended with other dignitaries, speeches were made, businesses along the canal were decorated for the occasion and invited guests went down the canal in adorned vessels. There was also a parade and a young 9-year-old girl was crowned "Miss Gowanus."
That day, the new flushing Tunnel was ceremoniously put into action to "clean the dirty and the malodorous canal" by pumping fresh water from Buttermilk Channel into the industrial waterway.

One hundred years to the day later, a much smaller crowd took part in the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Centennial Celebration, but spirits were equally high as participants paraded from the flushing tunnel at Butler Street between Bond and Nevins, to the Union Street Bridge. This time, there was not one, but a few Miss Gowanus' on hand, including Linda Mariano, one of the founding members of Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG). And as in the past, white lilies, symbols of purity, were thrown into the murky waters of the waterway with the hope that soon, the canal would be cleaner.

Ironically, the Gowanus was particularly malodorous on Tuesday night, and quite a few parade participants had to hold their nose while standing on the bridge.
The event's organizer, Angela Kramer Murphy of Proteus Gowanus pointed out the parallels between what happened a 100 years ago and today. "Back then, the Gowanus Canal smelled. The Gowanus still smells. Back then, people were debating about what to do about the Gowanus Canal" she said. "You could say that its kind of depressing that we are gathered here today to celebrate the anniversary of something and the Gowanus Canal still stinks, you could say that its a sign that no progress has been made. I like to look on the bright side and think that it's a great thing that I have so many people here to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a giant plumbing device."

The New York City Department Of Environmental Protection is currently updating the Gowanus Canal facilities, including the flushing tunnel and the pumping station. However, by the agency's own admission, the project will only reduce the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSOs), the major source of the foul odor, by 34 %.

Not good enough...and we, as a community, should demand that the city stop using the canal as an open sewer. Otherwise, we will still be holding our noses at the bicentennial celebration.


Anonymous said...

The CSO's will only be reduced 34% with this new project - does that include all CSO sewage from all new development that may happen in the Gowanus watershed? This area is huge, and is comprised of many neighborhoods.

neighbor said...

Proteus Gowanus announcement said celebration would end with refreshments. They omitted they charged for these, which is a bit tacky, sorry. It was a very hot day. There were sweet kids from the nabe, also. If I would have known they would have charged, I would have put out a table with free lemonade and cookies. It wouldn't have cost more than $30 bucks. Once every hundred years...

concetta said...

someone should call child protective service--i wouldn't take my kid out on the gowanus!

Anonymous said...

ditto concetta

Anonymous said...


I see people walk kids over the bridges all the time and expose them to the toxic odors. The EPA should levy superfund fines against those parents!

Anonymous said...

@10:12 walking over the bridge is very different from being in the water. No chance of contact when you walk over. One of the children in the canoe actually picked one of the tossed lilies out of the water with her bare hand. An innocent act - but not in toxic water. I wish she would have been warned not to have that water contact.

Anonymous said...

I wish they hadn't charged for the refreshments at the end. I was thirsty and did not have any cash on me. The Miss Gowanuses were lovely.

Anonymous said...

Human contact with water is the impetus for the EPA cleanup. EPA caught fish in Canal with toxins but that’s from fish bottom-feeding outside the Gowanus (where there’s growth in the sediment).

Concerns about kid safety and banishment of recreational boating from Gowanus are just arguments that EPA should remove the superfund designation so private development (cleanup) can proceed.

Marie said...

@2:41 Just so there is no confusion created - Human contact is not, I believe, the impetus for EPA. I am not sure that they will be able to get the water that clean. After all, it will still have raw sewage -the CSO issue is to be addressed by the City, and unless they stop using the canal as a sewer (which even the upgrading of the flushing tunnel will continue to do), the raw sewage will continue to enter into the canal. You would still not want to swim in the canal, for example, even after Superfund cleanup.
As one who was not thrilled to see the girls in the canoe on the water, I can assure you that I am NOT for the private development a la Toll. People like the Dregders who take others out in canoes should really disclose how toxic that water is.

NBuccalo said...

I also noticed the canal has been a bit smelling over the last week or so, but over the last several years there really hasn't been much of a stink except after heavy rains, and certainly not like it was in the '90's when you could smell it a couple blocks away.

The flushing tunnel is one step, the need to capture all storm water and sewer overflow and pipe it out to the river is the second half of what is required. While hopefully the superfund will remove poisons, not addressing the sewage will continue to leave, what could be an asset, as a thorn in our communities side. For the potential revenue that could be generated for the city with a clean canal, it's a very small investment to make it totally clean. After all, the Gowanas lies between two very popular neighborhoods.

lisa said...

I love the mix of community in your coverage, the mix in Gowanus. Sweet pix of the kids.

Katia said...

Thanks, Lisa.
it really is a great community.

J.T. said...

@N Buccalo Yes, it would be great for the City to invest in infrastructure so that the canal would no longer be a sewer. But I get nervous when I think of Gowanus as a potential source of revenue for the City, because the only ideas I've heard so far from the City are pretty hideous - their support for Toll Bros., for example. What we have in Gowanus is an openness and nature that is very rare and precious in our urban environment. I think creative minds and will could make something pretty special here that could create revenue - but it would have to be outside the box we have sofar been presented by money people and political people. Estuaries can have tremendous economic potential - the majority of fish that are caught lived in an estuary for part of their life cycle. We saw some pretty amazing out of the box ideas presented by Columbia students last month for Gowanus, also.

Mom said...

pardon my ignorance, but is the water's toxicity so potent that just getting a few drops of it on one's skin would do damage? i wouldn't hand my kid a glass of it to drink, but frankly i'm a little surprised to hear people so concerned about instantaneous surface contact.

Anonymous said...

@Mom. A few drops of it (Gowanus water) on one's skin would do damage? Um...if someone wasn't told about its toxicity - that girl might wipe her eyes, her face, might touch someone else, might hold something to eat, might put her fingers in her mouth - As a mom myself, I would not want my child to have contact. If contact were made I would certainly get that stuff off asap. Remember the accident a few years ago when some car plunged into the canal. The rescuers had to go to the hospital and take long showers and get a hepatitis shot. This was BEFORE the EPA said how toxic it was.

Anonymous said...


Contaminants are all around us. Swab a door pull from any City school and you'll likely find fecal matter. Test the rails of Canal bridges and you'll discover lead paint toxin.

There's a big sign at the Dredgers launch site informing the community of the dangers of this waterway. Ignorant people want to stop the environmental advocacy that's created when canoeist adopt a neglected waterfront. Stay away and there's no reason to clean it up.

enuf already! said...

@1:31 Stay away and there's no reason to clean it up? If the Dredgers' warning about the canal's toxicity was so clear, then why did the innocent little girl put her hand in the water? The canoe-ists didn't adopt the waterfront. It's not theirs to adopt, for one thing. The Dredgers, by the way, were against Superfund cleanup and took the side of Toll that the water was clean enough as is. I stay away from contact with the water because, unlike fecal matter of which I may be ignorant being on a door handle when I touch it, that canal water has been exposed by scientific examinations to be toxic to the point where it's parts per hundred where it's usually parts per million. Enuf said. Your "stay away and there's no reason to clean it up" is a very disposable human-centric attitude for one thing. You've undoubtedly heard the question, if a tree falls in the forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound? We should clean up our natural environment because everything is related, we are living in one planet, Earth. Poisons here affects life in the entire Hudson-Rariton Estuary, and beyond.

Anonymous said...

It's possible the kids can't read the sign because the mayor has had to layoff teachers to pay the EPA Superfund fine!

Gowanee said...

4:46 - and the adult who accompanied them couldn't read either, of course. BTW, the EPA did not fine the City - but the City is a PRP - potentially responsible party. Why do people keep putting wrong stuff out there about the EPA? Obviously the majority of the community is grateful that they are here. Thank you EPA.