Sewage overflow at Gowanus Canal sparks debate between city and Feds
by Lisa A. Fraser
Apr 25, 2012 | 1824 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, the Department of Environmental Protection presented to Community Board 6's Public Safety/Environmental Protection Committee some of the city's findings regarding combined sewer overflows (CSOs) at the Gowanus Canal.

The city noted at the meeting that it recognizes that CSOs need to be addressed with regard to sewage discharge in the canal and that they are addressing those issues under the Clean Water Act, which states that water is supposed to be clean for intended use.

The city's comments come after the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection recently released findings which show that CSOs from the city, which they calculate dump out almost 400 million gallons of sewage into the canal every year, will have to be looked at and cleaned up by the city in order to clean up the Superfund site.

But the city noted that CSOs are not what is contaminating the canal with chemicals. They point to possible sources of contaminants to sewers from homes, years of industrial pollution and surface runoff.

Although the city says that the CSOs are not the cause, a $183 million plan to reduce sewage overflow from the 11 pipes in the canal is in the works.

The plan will have two phases – the Waterbody/Watershed Facility Plan (WWFP) and the Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) to comply with EPA CSO Policy and Clean Water Act requirements.

The city says it plans to increase capacity at the canal's Flushing Tunnel, which will help improve dissolved oxygen and coliform levels. A pumping station upgrade will help reduce CSO charges by 34 percent. And through environmental dredging, the city hopes to eliminate exposed sediments and associated odors, although it is unclear how the dredging will fit into the larger Superfund process.

The U.S. EPA has said the city is reluctant to take responsibility and is demanding that they stop dumping raw sewage in the canal, which they say hinders human health and ecology, but the city is sticking to its claim that it is not responsible for it.

And some community advocates are backing the U.S. EPA's findings.

The Gowanus Community Advisory Group (CAG) recently said that it “fully supports” the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency in its findings that New York City's CSOs are a significant contributor of harmful sediment and Superfund regulated and highly carcinogenic Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals to the canal.

In light of the findings, CAG said that it takes the position that the total elimination of CSOs into the Gowanus Canal is the only “acceptable” solution to the problem.

The CAG is asking the EPA, under their Superfund authority, to take the necessary measures that will insure protection of the proposed remedy from ongoing CSO sediment solids deposits and the release of PAHs and other toxins.

In March, the CAG passed a resolution requesting that the water in the canal be reclassified by the EPA to limit pathogens.

According to the CAG, since the canal's water is generally used recreationally by kayakers and fishermen, under the Clean Water Act, water is supposed to be clean for intended use.

The current industrial standard sets no limits on pathogens in the canal's water and places individuals who come in contact with the water at risk of being exposed to disease or infection.

And since the canal is one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, the CAG is pushing even more to get the resolution passed by state agencies that have jurisdiction over the water quality.

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