Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Community to DEP's Commissioner Strickland: Water Quality Improvement Plan Doesn't Go Far Enough

Most of last night's Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group's general meeting was dedicated to a discussion with NYC's Department Of Environmental Protection and the agency's role in the clean-up of the polluted waterway.
Commissioner Carter Strickland was on hand to give a presentation on DEP's Gowanus Canal Water Quality Improvement plan, which aims to control the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) by upgrading the Gowanus Facilities. The $140 million upgrade to the wastewater pumping station at the head of the Canal is currently under way and will supposedly reduce CSOs by 34% and significantly reduce 'floatables'. It will also increase the pumping capacity from 20 million gallons a day to 30 MGD.
In addition, the agency is planning on dredging to control odors.
DEP is in the early stages of evaluating projects such as High Level Storm Sewers (HLSS), which could divert stormwater run-off from the combined sewer system and thereby result in fewer CSO events. HLSS will be designed for the 96-acre area bounded by 1st Place, 4th Avenue, State Street and 3rd Avenue. DEP believes that these HLSS will capture 50% of the drainage area runoff.
Commissioner Strickland also mentioned that New York City is investing $735 million in its city-wide Green Infrastructure plan, which will control runoff from 10% of impervious surfaces. "We are searching constantly for better ways. To find cost effective solutions" he stated.

After the presentation, members of the CAG engaged Commissioner Strickland in a brief question and answer session. It was apparent from some of the questions that many felt that that the DEP was still lacking the will to actually do what was needed to really improve water quality. As Marlene Donnelly of Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus pointed out, the DEP is still relying on rainfall data from 1988, a historically dry year in which rainfall totaled 40". However, in the last 10 years, the area has seen an average of 60" of rainfall a year. "Your model is not adequate" Donnelly pointed out. "Looking into the future, we need a model that is based on real rainfall."
Steven Miller, another CAG member, criticized DEP for not exploring and investing in gray infrastructure and for not including retention basins in their plan.
Another member pointed out that $735 million was a lot to spend on NYC's Green Infrastucture plan to manage a mere 10% of rainfall.
Member Lizzy Olesker expressed it best when she said that she was disappointed by the presentation and the lack of transparency. The DEP was still not engaging with the community, she felt. "What is it? A lack of political will?"


Bio Bob said...

Thanks for this summary, Katia!
You wrote: Many CAG members thought "DEP was still lacking the will to actually do what was needed to really improve water quality". I feel just the opposite in fact is true. DEP has plenty of "will" all right: the "will" to look the other way! If they can't even be trusted to use current and reliable scientific data, what is their possible, rational use besides willfully ignoring reality as the health of our community is placed on the line? Re the toxic Gowanus Canal, DEP continues to be a reliable smokescreen that hides the truth from the public. Yet the Commisioner looks utterly "baffled" at the public's response in the photo!. That, too, takes "will". Where DEP's there "willpower" came form is anyone's guess: the political sphere? Probably. the budgetary sphere? Probably that too. But it's not the kind of "will" we need. Obviously not! Lastly what is the "neutral" CAG moderator doing sitting over by the Commisioner and the DEP folks? Seems a very suspicious image to this eye at least. Is he already playing musical chairs? I thought so. Let's hope his "will" hasn't been compromised by that game.

Anonymous said...

The EPA RI data, compared with Army Corp benthic study, show that the DEP is dumping about six-inches of sludge into the upper canal each year.
Even if we accept their model prediction to reduce sediment sludge from CSO's by 34%, that leaves us with an annual accumulation of about four-inches of sludge.
The Superfund cleanup will be a major investment into the canal.

Is it OK to continue dumping that much sludge on top of the clean canal base? The DEP needs a plan that keeps this gunk inside their pipes and not at the bottom of the canal.

Anonymous said...


This is not about willpower - DEP has a budget approved by our elected officials. Our officials could decide to divert funds from removing toxins from schools and clean this waterway for a few kayakers. Voters may not appreciate that move.

We are lucky that DEP has devoted so much money to clean our waterway. The Superfund has no money and EPA is ignoring the CSO discharge (instead, EPA issues fines against our city for non compliance with clean water act) so let's give some credit to our City for improving our environment!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if, while they're cleaning & dredging the canal, will the EPA take air & ground samples for testing? During the entire process?
Does anyone remember when the canal was dredged in the early to mid 1970's that by mid/late '70's there was a WAY Above Average number of Cancer Cases within a 20 block radious of the canal?
Does anyone remember when the city brought in special (yet very secerative) crews to test top-soil & air quality?
Do you remember that ALL work stopped by 1980 & NO addtional work was done on cleaning the canal until these past couple of years? (aside from aerating the water)
I know it's 40 years later, but it still haunts many long-time residents.

Anonymous said...

EPA is taking air and sediment samples and will continue during and post cleanup. The Superfund Gowanus program will take +80 years to finish so we'll all be dead by then.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 1:31 (this is anon 12:25)

LOL - Yes, I figured I'd be dead in 80 years. But it's nice to know that this time they (EPA/City/ECO-groups/Gov, etc.) will continue to take air & sediment & top soil samples for the duration of the project. While I may not be around in 80 years, I'd like to "go" knowing my kids, grandkids & great-grand kids will have Pink Lungs & no brain damage.
We've been in the area since the 1840's and I hoped any brain damage in the blood-line would end with me. :-)