Monday, May 06, 2013

Sewage Discharge Right-to-Know Law - More News Worth Sharing!

Good news for boaters and swimmers about sewage releases - as of today New York State Law requires that when sewage is released into the waterways, the public be notified about it quickly. 

 Click here for Riverkeeper's blog post (thanks for forwarding, Prof. M!).

 Click here to read the legislation.

Combined Sewage Outfalls, commonly known as CSO's, are an unpleasant fact of life for us NYC boaters and swimmers. There are a lot of people living in this town, and the sewage systems handles both the wastewater from our homes and businesses and natural rainfall. On an ordinary day most of our local waterways are swimmably clean, but the system is only set up to handle so much sewage at a time and when we get a bad rainstorm, the excess ends up going straight into the estuary. This isn't an entirely uncommon occurence, either. When I was first learning to paddle at Manhattan Kayak Company, I think I was told that it was a good rule of thumb to stay right-side up if there had been anything close to an inch of rain in the previous 24 hours; a string of rainy days could have the same effect. If it had been pouring for a few days straight the deterioration of the water quality became noticeable enough that you wouldn't want to go in but there are levels of contamination that you need testing to detect but still pose a health hazard.

Much more drastically, though, a couple of years ago there was a huge spill caused by a fire at the 125th street sewage treatment plant - it was in late July, it was hot, it had been pretty dry and there was all sorts of recreational boating activity going on. Those people all found out much later (anybody reading this remember how long it took? I'm tossing this up quickly at work - I think it was at least the next day that the word got out, right?) and that really focused people's attention on the lack of a proper system of notice.

Hopefully the new law will help. Seems like progress.

Another good thing that came out of that July 2011 mess was a citizen's water  testing program that the New York City Watertrail Association kicked off.
 The city maintains a site that shows water quality at the swimming beaches when they're open but that doesn't include anything except the Rockaway Peninsula, the south-facing beaches of Brooklyn and Staten Island plus a few on the Sound side of the Whitestone Bridge - the entire borough of Manhattan is a big blank to them and a lot of the local paddlers got involved in doing their own testing after that -- you can read more about that on the "Water Quality" tab at


Harry said...

Thats good news Bonnie, I just wish that the public was notified back in the 80's when we were dumping sludge everyday from a barge only a few miles out.On nice days there would be all kinds of recreational traffic all around us while 75,000 bbls of shit was being discharged by us for the state.Boy did I hate that job,and we were only one out of dozens that dumped everyday...we averaged 9 to 11 trips a week.When the dump site was moved out to the 120 mile mark all tug-boaters jumped with joy,and when it was finally stopped we breathed a sigh of relief.I am glad that I switched to oil work while this was going on,never had the stomach for sludge dumping.

bonnie said...

Wow. That would be an uncomfortable job to do.

I still wonder how this rule is going to be implemented - immediately, they're setting up a web page where spills will be posted. That day in 2011, I think officials should have immediately should have rounded up some boats to spread the word to people who were actually out in small recreational craft at the time.

bonnie said...

As it was, New York Kayak Polo and others who'd spent what had seemed like a lovely evening on the water found out that things weren't so lovely the next day. ICK. Never been so glad that I paddle Jamaica Bay.

Harry said...

Bonnie, one of the things we always recommended was for all recreational craft to have a VHF radio turned on to ch 16 and 13.I know with your knowledge and skills,your groups are aware of this...but is the average weekender aware? I don't know anymore ( I am retired,just trying to help on the lake) is radio mandatory?.I do know that you can catch a lot of information from the commercial industry from the crews running out there 24,7.Years ago when we were dumping it was impossible for any of us to contact boaters that were around us and warn them of what we were doing.And then of course there was some guys that just didn't care to even try and warn some dudes that are out there water skiing through a plume of crap.Is vessel traffic service making any announcements when something is up or even the Coast guard on 13 & 16? One other thing...those dresses on your last post look expensive!!!But nice,I hope my girlfriend don't see them

bonnie said...

Boats less than 20 feet are not required to carry VHF's but a lot of the NYC area paddlers do - when you're sharing the waters with large vessels operating in restricted channels, plus all sorts of smaller boats, it's incredibly helpful to hear who's out there and what they're doing. If the radio is on and not being used for communication you're required to monitor the channels you mentioned. I do have to admit I don't keep my VHF turned on much in Jamaica Bay, there's very seldom any large traffic to keep track of, and the fishing chitchat can get annoying.

Lots of folks not listening, though, and not just because they don't know - New York Kayak Polo, for example, has their summer practice sessions on a court that they set up between piers, they wouldn't leave the area and the game is physical enough that radios would just get lost or broken. People doing rolling and rescue practices at their own docks would similarly tend to leave their VHF's on shore, rescue practice can be hard on gear and a good radio isn't cheap.

Plus of course there are plenty of people who just don't have them.

And yeah, aren't those dresses pretty? :D

bonnie said...

I think if I was a few miles out where the sludge used to be dumped, though, I'd want to have my radio on!

Harry said...

There used to be a fair amount of traffic in and out of Jamaica Bay,and yep sludge too daily.I bet the water and the beaches are cleaner now.The fishing chit chat starts in full gear right about now to,and I was guilty of turning the radio down on the barge several times,the tug needs it more than I did.If they needed us they knew how to get are attention.To this day I wont eat fish cause the 120 mile dump was right smack in the middle of the Hudson Canyons,guess what was going on around us...big fishing boats.So I still cant eat fish,even though ocean dumping was stopped a long time ago.

bonnie said...

heh heh...and here I've been thinking that I'd really like to go fishing on one of the boats out of Sheepshead Bay....