What to do with the city’s stinkiest water bodies

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Flushing Bay is ringed by sewer outfalls that discharge untreated sewage during medium and heavy rains. Outfalls are represented by circles of various colors. Graphic by Open Sewer Atlas NYC

By Len Maniace

The coming months are likely to be crucial for the future of two of our city’s most odiferous water bodies, both in name and in fact.

New York State is expected to rule on plans by New York City to clean up Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek, which feeds into it – a decision that is likely to determine conditions in those water bodies for the next 25 years, environmentalists say.

Right now environmentalists are worried. The plan for Flushing Bay has not been released yet; the city’s long-term plan for the Flushing Creek, however, consists of adding disinfectant to the largest of several pipes that periodically dump huge quantities of untreated sewage into the creek.

“You can’t put perfume on the poop and expect to resolve the problem,” said Alexandra Rosa, of Friends of Flushing Creek.

Critics point out that while disinfectants would kill off much of the harmful bacteria in the sewage, they also would damage tiny plant and animal life that are essential to the food chain of a once-productive estuary. What’s more, chlorine disinfectants are not without their own human health hazards.

Rosa was one of more than 100 residents, environmentalists, city officials and boaters attending a community meeting aboard the cruise ship Skyline Princess, docked Saturday in the bay at the World’s Fair Marina.

The trouble with the waters in Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek is hinted at by their names: too much of what is flushed down household toilets ends up in these bodies of water. That’s the case, even with the city’s wastewater treatment plants that were built to prevent the release of sewage into the city’s waterways.

Empire Dragon Boat Team

The Empire Dragon Boat Team, a group of breast cancer survivors that’s based on Flushing Bay, urged measures to clean up the polluted water body. Photo by Ruth Fremson/New York Times

While these plants do a great job most of the time, they come up short after moderate or heavy rains. These storms generate so much water that they overload the treatment plants, resulting in sewage being shunted into what are called combined sewer outfalls, CSOs, and then into nearby waterways.

Turns out, Flushing Bay is home to the city’s biggest CSO, which pours out 1.5 billion gallons of sewage and storm water annually. When that’s combined with other nearby CSOs, Flushing Bay receives the most untreated sewage of any body of water in and around our city. As if that isn’t enough, Flushing Creek which eventually flows into the bay, ranks second worse.

Despite the bay’s obvious problems, people use it for recreation, both fishing and boating, including the increasing popular dragon boats. A Chinese tradition, these crafts are attracting a multi-cultural audience in Queens.

Present at Saturday’s event and calling for stepped up effort to clean the bay were members of Empire Dragon Boat Team, a group of breast cancer survivors. For roughly seven years these women have been practicing on Flushing Bay several times a week and competing against other dragon boat teams.

To be clear, city environmental officials have taken steps to clean up Flushing Bay and Creek. Several years ago a huge underground tank was built in nearby Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to temporarily contain some of the sewage during storms until it could then be sent to wastewater treatment plants.

Sea Princess

Saturday’s conference on Flushing Bay water quality was sponsored by environmental and neighborhood groups and took place on the Skyline Princess in Flushing Bay.

What’s more the city is investing in green infrastructure that diverts rain and snow melt from even reaching the sewer system: green roofs, permeable paving, and bioswales, which are curbside gardens into which runoff is diverted. In addition the city plans to dredge a portion of the bay.

More needs to be done to reduce the amount of sewage released into the bay and creek, said Sean Dixon, an attorney with Riverkeeper, a group dedicated to protecting the Hudson River and its estuary. And with the city and state soon to finalize cleanup measures governing Flushing Bay and Creek for a generation, citizen action is needed to do the job right, he said.

“It’s important to tell officials that we want to start the cleanup today,” Dixon said.

The event was sponsored by Guardians of Flushing Bay; S.W.I.M. Coalition (Storm Water Infrastructure Matters); Riverkeeper, and Skyline Cruises.

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About lenmaniace

Award-winning writer and editor who has worked as a journalist and a corporate communications professional specializing in environmental sustainability and public health policy. Experience includes successful media outreach for a Manhattan publicity firm. Board member and president of a community-based nonprofit. Founder and leader of a series of successful park, art and environmental programs in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation’s most diverse city. * Executive Editor at Elsevier, a leading scientific and medical publisher. * Publicist, Media Advisor, Social Media Manager (part-time) at Monteiro & Co., a book-marketing company that specializes in business management, economics and politics. * Reporter (part-time) at the New York Post, specializing in breaking news in the world’s most competitive media market. * Senior Writer and Editor at The Journal News/LoHud.com, Gannett’s daily news outlet in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. Specialized in health policy and environmental sustainability issues * President the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a volunteer nonprofit civic organization in Queens, N.Y. Leader of its innovative environmental sustainability programs, including the Green Agenda for Jackson Heights.
This entry was posted in environment, Flushing Bay, Flushing Creek, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, Uncategorized, Wastewater Treatment Plant, water pollution and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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