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  • SWIM

Ongoing Threats to Water Quality

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

The New York City Water Trail Association, a non-profit group of citizen scientists that test water quality throughout the NY Harbor shoreline, reported alarming results last week.

NYC Water Trail Association

A 0.4 inch rainfall on September 14 seems like it was enough rain to cause a combined sewer overflow event in Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek; four of the six samples from the Bay and Creek taken the following day maxed out the lab’s bacteria count of >24,196 counts of Enterococcus colonies for a 100mL water sample. Enteroccus is an indicator bacteria that indicates the possible presence of sewage in the water. NYC Department of Health sets safe swimming standards for acceptable levels of bacteria in the water. Enterococcus counts higher than 104 colonies are considered unacceptable. The Water Trail Association posts their results on their website every week.

Combined sewer overflow isn’t always the cause of high levels of bacteria in the water. Sometimes, illegal sewer connections discharge sewage directly into waterways, even on sunny days. Two weeks ago, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported illicit sewage flows into Coney Island Creek:

“On September 7, 2016, NYCDEP [NYC Department of Environmental Protection] notified the department that the agency had discovered that 15 buildings, with a total of 990 apartments, are discharging sewage to the storm sewer that discharges into Coney Island Creek via outfall CI-641. This discovery was made during NYCDEP’s ongoing investigation of illicit sewage discharges into Coney Island Creek at the request of DEC. The NYCDEP estimates the total volume of sewage being discharged to the Creek from these buildings to be approximately 200,000 gallons per day. NYCDEP is continuing to inspect buildings in the area. DEC staff inspected the site on September 8 and September 12, 2016. The 15 buildings had failed sanitary lines either caused by blockages or broken lines. To prevent sewage from backing up in the buildings, the house trap caps for the storm lines were removed to allow sewage to flow from the sanitary lines to the storm lines. DEC Staff is continuing to investigate this case to determine the owner of each building. Repairs have started to correct the connections.”

DEC, under the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, posts recent NY State sewage alerts, but they only go back one week, so this notification is no longer available. An archive of alerts is available, but has not been updated since May 2016. You can sign up for real time alerts on DEC’s webpage.

And finally, last week Riverkeeper boat captain John Lipscomb discovered over 200 plastic bags filled with “black, semi-gelatinous sediment”. Captain Lipscomb believes whoever left the plastic bags in the Creek must had done it recently and intentionally. The sediment material has been taken to DEC for potential testing. The Brooklyn Eagle and NY Daily News have reported on this story.

Your advocacy is important to advance improvements in water quality in New York City! Get involved with SWIM or our member organizations, and keep us informed if you hear of dumping, sewage, or other threats to your local waterbody.

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