Friday, September 29, 2006

Beware the Gowanus Canal Shit Storm

Dirty Gowanus Water

Read the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement section on sewage, as we did, and you would think that a miracle has been wrought. Reduced to a few words, the report says that Atlantic Yards and all its 15,000-18,000 new residents and toilets would produce an itty-bitty problem here and there (ie, untreated sewage overflows into local waters),but that on the whole, there would be no major negative impact.

The report, for instance, says there would be less crap going into the Gowanus Canal with Atlantic Yards than without it. Come again? It claims that all of the efforts to reduce and hold Atlantic Yards sewage in storage tanks would result in less flowing into the canal than the current system.

Given that today is the last day for public comments to the Empire State Development Corporation and that there is an analysis of Biblical Proportions coming from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods that will say that the DEIS is so full of errors that it shouldn't be approved, this is as good a day as any to take another look at the testimony offered by Marilyn Oliva, representing Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG). According to Oliva, who knows a little bit about sewage and the Gowanus, the report uses 1988 statistics for its predictions.

At issue are the wonderful events known as CSO's or "Combined Sewage Outflows." To you and me, that means so much rain overwhelming the sewage system that, well, shit, et. al. flows into the Gowanus and the East River (where Atlantic Yards crap would go). In the case of Gowanus, on a really bad day, it means sewage geyers erupting in the streets, basements flooding with unspeakable substance and the like. This is what happens in Gowanus during really bad rainstorms. This is also why sometimes, after it rains, the Gowanus smells, well, like shit. The funky smell is there because Brooklynites literally flush their toilets right into the Big G when it rains.

We were particularly taken by the description offered by Christopher Ketcham in an excellent New York Press article that was otherwise about the roof dogs of Gowanus:
The sewer streams underground run down to the old swampland and surface in the storm eye into scuddable foam, two and sometimes three feet deep...Manholes pop open and dash in the stream like discuses, and from them white-brown geysers frolic, four feet in the air, and around the geysers the water bashes in boiling waves, pauses in eddies, and shoots off in a tomato-colored stream west, making for the waterfalls on the banks of the canal, which speeds in its ebb to the sea.
Poetic, no?

What does this have to do with Atlantic Yards? Pretty much everything. Oliva argues that these Old Faithfuls of Shit will be far more common sights when Atlantic Yards is built, and that the DEIS is, well, a crock of you know what because consultants used 1988 data that doesn't take into account changing weather patterns:
The model used to arrive at this conclusion, InfoWorks, uses the year 1988 as an average for both rainfall and storm intensity, both of which contribute to CSO’s. As all local residents know, 1988 does not adequately represent either average rainfall or storm intensity, both of which have been much greater in the past 10 years, both of which are projected to be greater still as we enter a 30-year cycle of more rain and more severe storms. Any model using this average and the results it produces then is flawed and should be reconsidered with more accurate data.

Perhaps even more significant: the InfoWorks model indicates that under the best circumstances, 2 more CSO’s would occur with between 15 and 18,000 more people flushing toilets into the Canal which “would not affect the quality of the water in the Canal.” We would like to point out that…The currently permitted CSO’s in the Gowanus Canal make it the single biggest contributor of high levels of pathogens to the New York Harbor; even two more of these events would then have a significant impact on the quality of water in the Canal, and in the Harbor. Permitting only two more of these events will thus have a significant affect on the waterways.

Residents from Ft Greene to Park Slope have to deal with sewage flooding their basements because the current sewage system and the Gowanus watershed cannot handle the rainfall and sewage we already produce. Antiquated sewer lines and an over-taxed watershed mean that rain and wastewater often never make it to the Red Hook or Owl’s Head Water Treatment Plants; they spill out of the system causing unlicensed CSO’s.

Vague promises of system upgrades do not sufficiently address the real health and safety issues that will arise with between 15 to 18,00 more residents flushing toilets into an already overtaxed system.

Just one of the thousands of issues associated with Atlantic Yards that may, or may not, be addressed by the Empire State Development Corporation that will impact life in Brooklyn.

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Anonymous NoLandGrab said...

The FROGGies were also mentioned in today's NY Times article"

The group Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, for example, took issue with the review’s contention that the toilets of thousands of new residents would not significantly increase sewage overflow into the Gowanus Canal.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

uhm, but they're going to have waterless urinals in the stadium!

11:19 AM  

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