Thursday, September 23, 2010

Holy Crap! Video Shows Raw Sewage Flooding Into Canal During Last Week's Storm



By now, everyone in New York City knows that the Gowanus Canal, once a thriving industrial waterway, is one of the most toxic sites in the United States, so toxic in fact, that the United Sates Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the canal a Superfund Site this past spring. The agency is currently studying how best to remove the coal tar and other poisons which have accumulated at the bottom of the canal.

However, toxic industrial waste is only one of the problems facing the Gowanus Canal. Local residents know all too well what happens to the waterway after every major rainfall. When our antiquated, overburdened sewer system reaches capacity, run-off and raw sewage is diverted into the canal.
The New York City Department Of Environmental Protection is currently upgrading the flushing tunnel and pumping station at 201 Douglass Street at a cost of approximately $140 million. It is hoped that the upgrade will reduce the Combined Sewer Overflow (C.S.O.) by 34%.
Though this is a worthy goal, it only solves 1/3 of the problem.
No plan has yet been presented to stop it completely.
We need to demand one now.

The video above illustrates the problems very graphically. It was filmed close to the Douglass Street flushing tunnel on September 16th, the day of the tornado here in Brooklyn. It was posted on You Tube by someone called keanhokeanho.



Anonymous said...

How can anyone think it's a good idea to emphasize residential development before this mess is cleaned up ? I wish our city was capable of some sensible planning which didn't always put developers first.

Katia said...

Exactly. If the EPA had not stepped in, the Toll Brothers would have been building their luxury condos by now.

blue barn said...

That was the nastiest video I have ever seen. It beat out the two girls one cup video. The gagging of the fellow videoing the canal really brought home the smell. I hope the EPA get to work sooner than later.

nick said...

OMFG Katia! This is a 'holy crap' moment if there ever was one. What do we need to do now to demand this water get cleaned up? I thought the Superfund status meant we were gonna get clean water! Should we call Brad or what?

Katia said...

Hey Blue Barn,
Unfortunately, the EPA's main focus is to remove the toxic sediment at the bottom of the canal which has accumulated after 150-years of industrial activity.

However, water-quality issues such as dumping CSO's into the Gowanus is the responsibility of New York State.

As residents, we need to demand that the CSO issue is addressed at the same time as the removal of toxic sludge from the canal.
No raw sewage should ever flow into our waterways, our neighborhoods.

Katia said...

Nick, as I just mentioned, we should have 0% tolerance for this.
It has gone on for decades. It needs to stop.
Councilman Brad Lander's office is a good place to start.
We also should ask that the EPA involve its water quality division.

Monique said...

Brad Lander continues to support Public Place. Without putting words into his mouth, he seems to question some of the science, and has said that there are differing opinions about how badly polluted the Gowanus is. I wonder if he believes in global warming.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, in New York City's antique waste water system the sewers and storm water run-off are connected and everything goes to be treated. At times of extreme weather, such as last Friday, the treatment system cannot keep up and the overflow is diverted to the Gowanus Canal, in our neighborhood, and to other bodies of water in other neighborhoods.

What you are suggesting then is that New York City and State, in a time of profound financial crisis and competing priorities, completely re-engineer its entire wast water treatment system. This would have to be done city-wide, of course, because why should only one neighborhood benefit? Simply put, this would cost billions of dollars.

Whatever they are doing now is working pretty well and I hope they continue in these "small" but significant interim steps. C'mon, in the early-90s the stench coming off that canal on a good day was unbearable.

Anonymous said...

The video is spectacular. It’s a wave of truth rising to the surface. Back in Spring 2005 I happened upon an episode of The Stoler Report, a real estate round-table show on CUNY TV. This episode happened to have among its guests both David Kramer and the weasel of the decade, David von Spreckelsen (or, as I've seen him referred to on other blogs, "David Von Prickless"). Stoler put forth the question, "What's the next big thing in Brooklyn?" Von Spreckelsen smirked and looked conspiratorially at Kramer, who clearly shared in the humor, as Von Spreckelsen offered up that the next big thing in Brooklyn would be luxury condos on the Gowanus. To think that this guy had total awareness of the danger and disease lurking and yet had not an iota of compunction about building. And without a clean-up. What the hell, it wasn't his money or his name or his life. He had no intention of living there. So he got to play fast and loose. It's OK, karma has a long memory.

An aside: I've always been irked by the term "luxury condo." Everything built these days is "luxury." These new-builds and conversions are all crap and the mark-up is astronomical, which is why on Von Spreckelsen's other grand plan in Williamsburg (near that other toxic canal Newton Creek), Toll was able to cut the ask prices so dramatically when sales stalled. His newest plan in Dumbo overlooks the Con Ed plant. David von Spreckelsen is cancer.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in this neighborhood through the 90s, this week was the first time a had to close my bedroom windows at night to avoid the smell of the canal.

Anonymous said...

The councilman and mayor are powerless to get Fed funds and are already spending substantial City $$ to improve this situatiuon (pump upgrade). Now is the time to call on the Federal Elected's to provide funds to retrofit our storm drain system.

Removing the tar / canal sediment is a complete waste of funds. Nobody is exposed to those contaminants and Gowanus fish are not contaminated because there's nothing to eat at Canal bottom. Leave sediment where it is and redirect the Fed funds to stop the storm overflow!

Fish in the canal feed on plans growing in contaminated sediment of the East River and the Hudson River - NOT the Gowanus!

Kate said...

Or....revolutionary idea....instead of changing the pipes, we manage the stormwater on land before it goes into them! Then the sewer system can be left for sewage, and our million trees might have something to drink.

Kate Zidar
Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) Coalition

Margaret said...

to: September 23, 2010 8:49 PM
"Whatever they (City) are doing now is working pretty well " who are you and where do you live to say this? The canal is a mess right now -grossest I have ever seen and smelled in 25 years I have been here. Even without major storms. I have to avert my eyes most days I have to cross it.

Alec said...

The City Council is about to consider an amendment to the Green Roof Tax Credit that will allow the credit to apply to those growing food on their roofs. Greening roofs is arguably the cheapest way to prevent CSOs and of course there are many benefits to growing more food locally. So this represents a good step forward.

However, the current language may still exclude some of the largest roofs in the city which naturally have the greatest ability to prevent CSOs.

The credit is for $4.50 a square foot, up to $100,000 and requires that at least 50% of a roof be greened. This means that a 1,000 square foot roof that is entirely greened would be eligible for the credit while an 80,000 square foot roof with 35,000 square feet greened would not.

In addition to shedding the 50% requirement, the new resolution should do away with the $100K cap and stick with $4.50 a square foot for as much roof as one has available. In addition to being an economical way to address CSOs these roofs also mitigate heat island effect, provide habitat, etc.

Katia, perhaps this issue worth a post of its own? I could put you in touch with some interesting folks to talk to on the issue.

Great Blog btw. -Alec