Monday, July 25, 2011

Final (I hope) Poopy Post - Pop Quiz Ruminations

A Caveat: This post is purely a rant, I don't particularly know what I'm talking about, just saw that there was something that did actually work to keep those of us south of the Narrows somewhat informed, and assumed that there's no particular reason that that site couldn't be adapted to be of use to those north of the Narrows, too. We've all heard what they say about "Assume", though, right?

Taken from Friday's comments - I just put one down that was practically a free-standing post, so figured I might as well take 5 more minutes & finish this off before anybody suggests that I change the name of the blog to "The Big Blog of Sewage Ickiness".

So I'd asked on Friday what the glaring issue with the DOH water-quality site was. Tillerman actually caught an interesting linkage issue - I've been using that site for long enough that I don't read the directions anymore, but for those who do, the directions say to click on the map for borough details, which doesn't actually work - you click the links below the map. That would be easy enough for the webmaster to fix.

That wasn't what I was after, though. My beef with this site after last week's problems? It's entirely beach-o-centric! There's not ONE place in the entire stretch of water around Manhattan that they bother monitoring. They haven't caught on to the fact that these days, it's not just beachgoers who need this info. The DOH was keeping close enough tabs on things last week that I was able to click on this map, look at the Brooklyn beaches & be quite confident that we'll be able to drop people in the water during the class I'm helping with tomorrow without any problem - but all my friends who paddle up in Manhattan? Their waters are a Giant Black Hole Of Non-Information. Seems to me taht the DOH really ought to fix that. A few more monitoring spots at NYC Watertrail launch sites & it would be useful to a lot of people who instead are just hanging on for press releases. Bleah!

Now...a friend from the club weighed in with the points that even for the spots that are tested, there's usually a 24-hour delay, which, given the tidal nature of the area, is usually enough that by the time you see the notice, the condition has probably already improved (for example, most of the paddlers who are in the loop around here KNOW that CSO's, Combined Sewage Outfalls, start putting crap in the water when the system is overwhelmed, so a heavy rainstorm means no rolling practice for a day or so). He also says that sometimes the folks at the DOH will sometimes post erroneous readings, or sometimes even make things up.

I can't really address the last 2 charges...all I'm trying to suggest here is just something that seems to me to be a practical, not-too-hard-to-implement step to take in improving the way the city gets information out to EVERYONE who's recreating in the water these days. All my friends at the boathouses were upset about how clumsily the information on the spill was disseminated (especially those who were playing in the river the day the spill began and found out about it the next day). The DOH HAS a website that is specifically designed to share exactly the kind of information that needed to be shared, and in this case it worked reasonably well - it just didn't give any information to anybody in the area that was the most affected. Updating that site to give similar information to people using the water around Manhattan seems pretty much like a no-brainer of a step to take.

Of course one reason the DOH might prefer NOT to give that info is because despite the fact that there are NO official swimming beaches around Manhattan, there are still plenty of places that people can get into the water, and if the water quality updates include North River, East River & Harlem River, that might somehow be interpreted as some sort of official acknowledgement that the water that people are swimming in anyways is actually OK to swim in...

Using that as a reason to maintain an information blackout for the entire area around Manhattan seems like some awfully head-in-the-sand, down-the-rabbithole, bass-ackwards rationalization, though.

This really seems like a perfect wake-up call to the city to recognize that it's not just beachgoers that need to be kept informed.

As far as the lag - I can accept that as natural; perhaps a more direct approach to getting the info out in case of a major spill like this one should be kept at the ready. Wouldn't it have been nice if when the sewage started to spill, somebody (parks, FDNY, harbor patrol, CG Auxiliary, any or all of the above) had been called and asked to put some people out on patrol to let people who were using the water AT THAT TIME (like the NYO folks who paddled north until their noses told them to turn around, or the New York Kayak Polo team who were enjoying a pleasant evening's practice at Pier 66) know what was going on?

They wouldn't even have had to go around kicking people off the water - just tell them what was going on, let them make their own decisions and ask them to spread the word & watch for official announcements as things developed.

Thus endeth the rant. Thank you for letting me vent (or outfall). I expect to return to my normal cheery burbles tonight.


Nancy & Dennis Friedman said...

Please see article

I just saw this today. Looks like your Hawaiian toilet bowl (as well as too many other H20 spots) is now off-limits


bonnie said...

Oh, the Toilet Bowl has been off limits for years - I was still walking out to it & jumping in in the 70's but I think my generation of kids was the last who got to do that.

bonnie said...

The thing about that was - it was fun, but it did take some judgement. You had to know to stay away from the inlet. You had to be a good swimmer. You had to know that things came in surges - when the water sucked out to your ankles, the next one was going to be big, you had to be ready & not panic when the water came surging in. Getting in was easy but you had to take your time getting out (for me, as a small kid, it usually involved riding one of those big surges when it overflowed the bowl and a scrape or two were almost unavoidable). You had to have the sense to stay out when it was flushier than you were comfortable with, and beyond that, you had to have the sense not to even try to go out there when the waves were breaking over the ledges at all.

Anonymous said...

here is another toilet bowl, and the last time I will mention it, but it is important to remember how bad it used to get at a certain location,and here is where you use a hi-tech piece of equiptment to test the water, your eyes and nose...

bonnie said...

Oh, don't be coy about it - I was just describing this morning on the NYC Watertrail Google group how you sometimes used to be able to see the line of gray-green foul water advancing down the Paerdegat when the old holding plant decided to release (and that wasn't even always when it rained).

As a rule, people should just ALWAYS use their senses and their common sense when they are deciding whether or not to go on the water - but sometimes things you can't see are still going to hurt you (would Riverkeeper have reported seeing people swimming if the water had actually smelled offensive?). That's where it seems like the DOH would do better by people if they would widen the scope of the area for which information is available.

bonnie said...

Interesting article in the Times today ("Anonymous", I think you'd sent me a link today, I think I'd alos seen it in the print copy I got for the ride in, and the Times site also just suggested it again!) talking about Riverkeeper's measurements, and actually doing a nice job of talking about how current city-government run testing is handled, and also putting this isolated event in perspective with what happens anytime we have a good rainy spell, - click here to read.