Friday, July 29, 2011

July S.W.I.M. Meeting

Monday morning was cool, overcast and a little windy. After the sweltering soup we waded through last weekend, this was beautiful weather. I was thrilled to be out in it, and excited to attend the Storm Water Infrastructure Matters Coalition meeting. S.W.I.M. is a group of New Yorkers dedicated to improving water quality in the city's rivers and estuaries through equitable distribution of green infrastructure.

The chickens and Annie Novak, Eagle Street's head farmer. Via The Atlantic.

The July meeting was held at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We sat on a small platform in the midst of a lovingly farmed green roof. Behind our group, chickens scratched in their coop and troops of city kids toured the farm. In front of us, midtown towered gray and reflective. The meeting opened with a presentation by Tyler Caruso and Erik Facteau about their research project, Seeing Green: The Value of Urban Farms, recently funded on Kickstarter. If they hadn't already raised the amount they were looking for I'd tell you to go donate; the project hopes to determine whether rooftop farms are equivalently efficient at capturing stormwater as traditional green roofs. This research could be used to make New York's green roof tax credit applicable for rooftop agriculture, which it currently isn't.

A still from the Seeing Green Kickstarter video showing Tyler and Erik on the roof at Brooklyn Grange farm.

The rest of the meeting centered around the previous week's combined sewer overflows, discussed in our last post. S.W.I.M.'s members were not happy.
The July meeting, from the S.W.I.M. blog.

They had reason. Notification of the CSOs was insufficient, and many of the boaters were either out on the water themselves or had groups of people (including high schoolers) in the water while sewage was being released nearby. The NYC DEP sent some representatives, though if they were trying to do damage control they weren't very successful. The unlucky, besuited bureaucrat who took questions was evasive and non-commital. The scene could easily be caricatured: clean-cut government employee yelled at by environmentalists over inadequate response to emergency. But the passion exhibited by the members of S.W.I.M. wasn't amusing, it was awesome. I left thinking that New York is lucky to have such people looking out for our waters and our health.

For in-depth notes on the points covered in the meeting, head over to the S.W.I.M. blog.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sewage in New York's Rivers

A sewer outfall a few blocks north of Christopher Street in Manhattan on the morning of July 22nd. | Photo credit SeaAndSkyNY

If you live in New York City, you probably know by now that a pump engine fire shut down the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant at 125th St. last Wednesday night. Over the following two days, raw sewage was diverted from the plant into the Harlem and Hudson rivers, to the tune of about 200 million gallons.

Smoke from the fire fills Riverbank Park nearby. | Photo credit @phlpp7r

It was particularly unfortunate that the sewage outfalls contaminated New York's waterways the same weekend that temperatures in the city reached 104, a record high. The city issued an advisory warning against swimming at three beaches in Staten Island and one in Brooklyn, but it wasn't clear how effectively the warnings reached New Yorkers. The New York Times reported visitors with small children at two of the beaches who were unaware that the water was unsafe, and people were seen fishing in Staten Island and the Harlem river. Both activities carry serious health risks, and it may be that we need better systems for informing the public of CSOs (combined sewer overflows). As someone pointed out at this morning at a S.W.I.M. Coalition meeting, subsistence fishermen in East Harlem probably don't read press releases.
A floating barrier near the treatment plant. | Photo credit NYTimes

While this event was unusual in its scale and origin, the sad truth is that CSO events are not uncommon. They happen at various outfalls around the city almost every time it rains.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Manhattan's Newest River

We are so excited that the New York Times featured our rain garden at Teachers College in the Home section in the Thursday, June 30 issue. If you missed it, you can still access the article online. Enjoy the photos from the installation!