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SWIM's Recent Boat Tour with Stewards of the Dutch Kills Tributary of Newtown Creek

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

SWIM Coalition went on a boat tour of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek last month! Accessing this waterway by boat is a rare opportunity to witness first hand natural systems intertwining with and thriving in spite of the industrial decay that defines so many of our forgotten industrial waterfronts.

As part of SWIM's Getting to Zero in Dutch Kills project, we joined local stewards from the Queens and Brooklyn side of the creek and our project partners Newtown Creek Alliance to explore current and future shoreline restoration projects aimed at improving water quality in Dutch Kills.

The goal of our Getting to Zero in Dutch Kills project is to build greater community awareness and stewardship of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. The project aims to strengthen and leverage the connections between the business community, local stewardship groups, interested citizens on the Queens and Brooklyn sides of the creek and city agencies in an effort to form a sustainable network of informed stakeholders who can work together to revitalize this lesser known section of Newtown Creek. SWIM Coalition is partnering with Newtown Creek Alliance, GreenShores NYC, Riverkeeper, and New York City Soil and Water Conservation District to develop a community action plan for reducing sewer overflows that discharge in the Dutch Kills tributary. Nearly 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater discharges into the Dutch Kills section of the creek each year. One of our project goals is to establish how much stormwater needs to be captured with green infrastructure in our project area to lessen the number of sewage overflow events in this section of the Creek.

The Dutch Kills section of Newtown Creek was once a very busy maritime artery in Long Island City, Queens. Today, the tributary is surrounded by old and new industries, the campus of LaGuardia College, hi rise residential towers, a thriving community green space and garden called LIC Roots, and the Sunnyside rail yards.

artery and a wetland restoration program of NYC DEP has been installed and recently expanded to help improve water quality.

Local stewards are introducing floating wetlands ( mini living docks with wetland plants, see image below) and native plantings along the shoreline to encourage ecosystem restoration in the waterway.

We had to duck as we went under the old Dutch Kills Bridge and into the head end of the tributary! It's quite a relic of another era and believe it or not is still used by NYC DOT.

An outfall at the head end of the tributary (visible during low tide) warns of poor water quality during wet weather. Here is a link to the latest water quality testing results obtained by Riverkeeper and Newtown Creek Alliance.

Two abandoned barges have melded themselves into one another as they've decayed over the years and from a distance they look like a lot like the sediment on banks of the creek at low tide. One of the Getting to Zero in Dutch Kills project priorities is to get the barges removed so that the shoreline can be restored. We've reached out to several city and state agencies about this and so far the barges remain bogged down in bureaucratic limbo.

There is hope! Like it's sister Super Fund site, the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek and its tributaries are getting cleaned up. The abandoned waterfronts of our city are getting revealed and revitalized and neighborhood stewards are making sure that their local waterways are improved and made accessible for public use. Boat trips into Dutch Kills for a relaxing paddle and picnic will someday be the norm for future residents of our City. We look forward to contributing to the realization of this vision with our project partners in 2019 and beyond.

Below is an analysis map of potential and existing sites for green infrastructure projects within two of the larger "sewersheds" of the Dutch Kills tributary. A sewershed is a specific geographic area that drains into the city's municipal storm sewer and combined sewer system pipes and outfalls. We've selected the sewersheds of two main outfall points on Dutch Kills as our main project area. You can learn more about sewersheds and see maps of the city's sewersheds here.

In the spring of 2018 the Getting to Zero Dutch Kills project team gathered stakeholder

groups from the neighborhoods that surround the Dutch Kills tributary to meet with municipal agencies such as NYC DEP, DOT, and NYC Parks

Forestry department officials, Assembly member Nolan and City Council member Van Bramer’s offices, local stewards of the creek, and environmental educators from LaGuardia College to discuss large-scale municipal green infrastructure projects planned or already underway for the area and identify specific community based projects that local stewards can initiate in the same area in order to contribute to the City’s the overall effort to capture more stormwater and reduce CSO pollution in Dutch Kills. A community workshop will take place in Long Island City in early 2019 to review the projects we prioritized at the stakeholders meeting and build out a Community Action Plan for how to implement the projects. The Action Plan will be published in the spring of 2019. Stay tuned for a web page for this project on SWIM's website soon. The Getting to Zero in Dutch Kills project is funded by a grant from the Hudson River River Foundation's Newtown Creek Fund. Images from the boat tour are by Michael Mullaley.

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