The Newtown Pentacle

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Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

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LO… Behold and tremble, for the Newtown Pentacle is back in session.

from Newtown by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A fitting temple has been erected to an ancient goddess by the redoubtable engineers of the DEP, a shining secular cathedral which looms over storied Greenpoint, this is the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (referred to as the NCWWTP from this point on), whose guarded interiors were revealed to an eager public via the auspices of the 2009 Open House New York event.


Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
(in association with Greeley and Hansen, Hazen and Sawyer and Malcolm Pirnie)
Brooklyn, New York
54 acres
Projected Completion: 2010
This waste water treatment plant replaces an outmoded and environmentally unsound facility. Its design and construction are organized in phases over a ten-year period, and the plant is to remain fully operational throughout the process. Perimeter fencing, aerial walkways, bridges, major axes, building forms, materials and color are used as ordering devices throughout the site. Large areas of glass provide natural light in machinery rooms and by displaying the process, demystify it. Perimeter green space buffers the plant from the street. The design, which is subject to elaborate public approvals processes, has a “1% for Art” component. This project has received two Awards for Excellence in Design from the New York City Art Commission for its sensitivity to the challenge of locating a large-scale industrial project within a residential neighborhood.

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
(in association with Greeley and Hansen, Hazen and Sawyer and Malcolm Pirnie)

Brooklyn, New York
54 acres
Projected Completion: 2010

This waste water treatment plant replaces an outmoded and environmentally unsound facility. Its design and construction are organized in phases over a ten-year period, and the plant is to remain fully operational throughout the process. Perimeter fencing, aerial walkways, bridges, major axes, building forms, materials and color are used as ordering devices throughout the site. Large areas of glass provide natural light in machinery rooms and by displaying the process, demystify it. Perimeter green space buffers the plant from the street. The design, which is subject to elaborate public approvals processes, has a “1% for Art” component. This project has received two Awards for Excellence in Design from the New York City Art Commission for its sensitivity to the challenge of locating a large-scale industrial project within a residential neighborhood.

ret_g10_img_1214_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle and I made the journey from the sun kissed hills of Astoria to the hard reality of Greenpoint and found dozens of people lining up for their chance to participate in this experience- including these three who were directly in front of us. People brought their kids. At the gate, DEP personnel were gathering the visitors into groups and we soon were being heralded to the elevators.


(note: the data below relates to the original NCWWTP, not the modern and upgraded gargantua)

Between 1965 and 1979,the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant was built in Brooklyn. It was designed to treat 310mgd and was built on a relatively small footprint  of 30 acres. Its design lacked primary tanks and, as a result,wastewater traveled from the grit chamber to the  aeration tanks to the final tanks without intermediate  channels, thereby conserving space and minimizing pumping requirements.

Stats for the original plant read as follows-

Plant in operation: 1967

Design Capacity: 310 MGD

Dewatering: Hunts Point WPCP

Population Served: 1,068,012

Receiving Waterbody: East River

Drainage Area: 15,656 Acres,south and eastern midtown sections of Manhattan,

northeast section of Brooklyn and western section of Queens

Plant Staff: 88 Newtown Creek WPCP

ret_g10_img_1218_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour conducted us across the still active and under construction work site, and our group broke off in the direction of the south east digester egg.


New York City has dealt with water pollution problems since the late 1600s by building centralized infrastructure. Many of the early sewers simply collected sanitary sewage and discharged it directly to waterways, a signifi cant improvement in public health that protected people from exposure to pathogens and other pollutants. Combined sewers were a state-of-the-art public health measure that eliminated privies and overfl ow of sewage into streets and groundwater and carried away stormwater, garbage, human waste, animal waste, and other refuse that collected on city streets. Combined sewers made sense then because there was no treatment of wastewater and therefore no reason to separate wastewater from stormwater.

By the late 1800s, water quality conditions in New York Harbor and its branches were very poor because of the volume of untreated sewage discharged during dry weather. To address this problem, in the 1890s and early 1900s New York City began building wastewater treatment near bathing beaches, at the sites of the present 26th Ward and Coney Island WPCPs in Brooklyn and the Jamaica WPCP in Queens. Existing street sewers were tied into these plants through “interceptor” sewers that collected flow at the end of street sewers, generally near the former point of discharge at the waterline. To accommodate a growing population, the City built additional sewers and plants to treat the sewage collected by the combined system. Between 1935 and 1945 three new plants were constructed – Wards Island in Manhattan and Bowery Bay and Tallman Island in Queens. Between 1945 and 1965 fi ve additional plants were built – Hunts Point in the Bronx, Oakwood Beach and Port Richmond in Staten Island, and the Rockaway and Owls Head plants in Brooklyn. The Newtown Creek WPCP was built between 1965 and 1979. By 1968, 12 wastewater plants were treating nearly one billion gallons per day of wastewater. New York City upgraded its plants to full secondary treatment and built two more treatment plants, the Red Hook plant in Brooklyn and the North River plant in Manhattan. The completion of the Red Hook WPCP in 1987 ended the last, permitted dry weather discharges of raw sewage into the harbor.

New York City’s current infrastructure is comprised of an extensive network of over 6,000 miles of residential connections, force mains, and interceptor sewer pipes that collect sanitary sewage and stormwater, and the 14 WPCPs that receive the flow (one of these plants receives fl ows exclusively from a separately sewered area). This network is one of the City’s most significant assets, and has improved the health of generations of New Yorkers. The City’s wastewater plants have the capacity to treat 1,805 million gallons of dry weather wastewater flows every day. The WPCPs are also designed to handle double the normal sewage flow to account for high fl ows during rainstorms. However, the combined fl ow during storms has often been more than the treatment plants could accommodate and treat. The systems were therefore designed to prevent fl ooding of the WPCPs or backup of sewage into streets and buildings through the regulators that shunt excess fl ow to local waterways.

New York City’s experience was not unique. Combined sewer systems are remnants of the country’s early infrastructure and are typically found in older communities. CSOs are a major water pollution concern for approximately 772 cities and 40 million people who are concentrated in the Northeast, Great Lakes, and the Pacifi c Northwest. In New York City, approximately 433 outfalls discharge CSOs during wet-weather to the receiving waters of the New York Harbor complex (Figure 10). These discharges result in localized water quality problems such as periodically high levels of coliform bacteria, nuisance levels of fl oatables, depressed dissolved oxygen, and, in some cases, sediment mounds and unpleasant odors. CSOs are considered to be the largest single source of pathogens to the New York Harbor.

The City began addressing the issue of CSO discharges in the 1950s. In 1972, New York City opened the fi rst CSO control facility in the Harbor Estuary at Spring Creek, Jamaica Bay. This facility stores excess fl ow from CSOs until after the rainfall ends and then pumps it back to the WPCP for treatment. It was one of the fi rst such facilities in the country. Other upgrades to our treatment plants increased wet weather capacity. By 2007, the City’s WPCPs were treating 447 billion gallons of sanitary sewage and 35 billion gallons of stormwater water a year, at an operating cost of $379 million.

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The green bricked structures are the elevator shafts which conducted the group to the steel walkway suspended some 1100 feet above the iridescent soil of Greenpoint. This catwalk afforded a unique perspective, and is clearly designed with adoration of the ancient goddess in mind.


The Newtown CReek WPCP upgrade projects are funded in the CIP at a level of approximately $1.59 billion, however additional funding is required for design fees, final site work, Main Building, community amenities, DSNY warehouse and additional funds for the sludge loading docks.

ret_g10_img_1266_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The glass which contains the walkway was fairly dirty, which was surprising for some unknown reason, and its peculiar color functioned in the manner of a neutral density filter– reducing picture contrast. Luckily, the intrepid urban photographer is practiced in the art of locating holes in fencelines, and several opportune vantages could be gained by careful observation.


During a rainstorm, a percentage of this combined flow ends up at our treatment plants, and the remainder of the combined flow is discharged untreated into surrounding waters through outfalls located at the bulkheads. In the case of lower Manhattan, the combined sewers serving that area lead to a very large pumping station at East 13th St in Manhattan. From there, the sewage is pumped to Greenpoint, Brooklyn where it is treated at the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant.

DEP routinely samples raw sewage going into the Newtown Creek plant, as well as treated effluent coming out of Newtown Creek, several times each day. We also regularly take samples from open waters at various locations in New York Harbor, including near the Battery. DEP tests these samples for “conventional parameters,” such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, suspended solids and coliform. These conventional parameters have consistently remained within their normal ranges since September 11th.

Using the more sophisticated testing capabilities that EPA has at its disposal, beginning September 11th, their staff immediately began supplying us with results from tests for “unconventional parameters” on samples of run-off from the Trade Center site, harbor waters, and sewage. These unconventional parameters include PCB’s, dioxin, asbestos and other organic chemicals and contaminants for which the City’s harbor water quality laboratories do not routinely test. Initial runoff samples taken near Rector Street showed elevated levels of PCB’s, dioxin, asbestos and metals. Follow-up samples showed concentrations of these substances below levels of concern. Samples of harbor water and samples of effluent from the Newtown Creek plant also show the presence of “unconventional parameters” at levels too low to be of concern.

ret_g10_img_1224_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A DEP representative began his presentation, explaining a brief history of the DEP and the NCWWTP. The digester eggs, whose apex is crowned by the steel walkway upon which we stood, were in full operation. Displaying the various examples of ingenious and advanced technologies, and pointing to several points of interest in the larger yard of the plant, he directed our attentions to a glass hatch which afforded a view of that churning loathsomeness which the digester egg was processing.

from wikipedia

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) manages the city’s water supply, providing more than 1.1 billion gallons of water each day to more than 9 million residents throughout New York State through a complex network of nineteen reservoirs, three controlled lakes and 6,200 miles of water pipes, tunnels and aqueducts. The DEP is also responsible for managing the city’s combined sewer system, which carries both storm water runoff and sanitary waste, and fourteen wastewater treatment plants located throughout the city. The DEP carries out federal Clean Water Act rules and regulations, handles hazardous materials emergencies and toxic site remediation, oversees asbestos monitoring and removal, enforces the city’s air and noise codes, bills and collects on city water and sewer accounts, and manages citywide water conservation programs.

ret_g10_img_1247_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The machinery controls the movement and circulation of the sludge within the egg, and maintained a constant temperature to facilitate the bacterial action within the steel enclosure. Methane gas, a mephitic byproduct of the digestion process, is reclaimed from the works and recycled into the mechanical works of the vast sewage mill. This foul smelling but clean burning emission is used to help maintain a critical temperature mean which is – disturbingly – the internal temperature of the human body.

from, way back in the year 2000

New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Joel A. Miele Sr., P.E. will preside at a groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction on the final upgrade to secondary treatment at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The project will bring the treatment plant into compliance with secondary treatment requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act pertaining to wastewater that flows to the plant from the surrounding drainage area.

“When the Newtown Creek upgrade upgrade is completed, all of New York City’s fourteen wastewater treatment facilities will be in compliance with federal mandates,” said Commissioner Miele. “It is a far reaching project that will contribute to the continuing improvement of the City’s Harbor environments and water quality. In addition,” continued Commissioner Miele, “this facility has been honored by awards for its commitment to the community through its aesthetic design and will also be complemented by two public art projects that will enhance the plant environs.”

The upgrade will include three new chlorine contact tanks and a chlorination building, which will permit year-round disinfection to meet standards for treated wastewater. The facility will also include seven sodium hypochlorite storage tanks, a truck unloading station, and a multi-story building, which will house personnel facilities, administrative offices, a central lab and a shop area. The designs for the disinfection and administration buildings, created by Polshek Partnership, Architects, received Excellence in Design Awards from the New York City Art Commission for the aesthetic appropriateness of their architecture on City-owned property.

In addition, two artists, Vito Acconci and George Trakas, were commissioned by the City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs,” Percent for Art Program to create public art projects at the site of the plant. Mr. Acconci created a fence treatment surrounding the plant and Mr. Tracas designed a Waterfront Nature Walkway along Newtown Creek and Whale Creek Canal.

ret_g10_img_1228_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The entire city of New York is connected via its sewer infrastructure in one way or another. Covered sewers running beneath city streets were first innovated by the Indus Valley Civilization in 2600 BCE, and notable moments in sewer history were achieved by the ancient Chinese, Romans, and the considerably less ancient British. The 19th century vintage of sewers in Paris actually have a tourist industry devoted to their exploration.


…Those bulbous, silver-skinned pods you see in the picture at right are “digester eggs,” and they perform the city’s dirtiest but most essential work, using microbes to reduce sludge (a.k.a. sewage minus water) by half. Most of the design is pure engineering, but the spaceship exterior is the work of the estimable Polshek Partnership, known for the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History, among many credits….

ret_g10_img_1237_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we try not to think about, as a culture, is disease. The sewers catch every organism that the sunlit population above contracts. Every flyblown bit of dog poop on the street carries insect eggs into the underworld, and the population of humans excrete pharmaceutical residue as well as an encyclopedic palette of pathogens into the flow. Every affliction, from obvious villains like Cholera and Typhus, to venereal pathogens and flesh eating bacteria can be found in the pathways. Who can guess, what it is, that lurks down there?


What goes on inside the digesters is slightly more prosaic, but vital to processing millions of gallons of waste water every day. Sludge, which is removed from sewage, is broken down within the digesters into more stable materials: water, carbon dioxide, methane gas and digested sludge, which can be formed into dry cakes and then, after additional processing, used as fertilizer. The shape of the egg helps concentrate grit in the bottom of the tank and gas concentrations at the top. Each egg holds three million gallons of sludge. Four began operating May 23. The rest should be in service by the end of the year.

ret_g10_img_1251_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast outbreaks of disease in the unheralded urban concentrations of the 19th century forced the creation of what was then called the Dept. of Health, but which has transmogrified over the last century into a sprawling utilitarian bureaucracy which is called the DEP.


Digesters play a critical role in the wastewater treatment process. During the wastewater treatment process, organic material called sludge is removed from sewage. Sludge is “digested” and processed for beneficial use. Inside of digesters, bacteria break down this sludge into more stable materials. Heat, lack of oxygen, and time are all needed for this to happen. Much of the sludge is converted into water, carbon dioxide and methane gas. The remaining is called digested sludge. Digested sludge is then dewatered to form a cake, which, after additional processing, can be beneficially used as a fertilizer. The eggs are state of the art in digester design as the shape assists in concentrating grit at the bottom of the tank, mixing for improved digestion and the concentration of gas at the top of the tank. Each egg holds 3 million gallons of sludge.

The Newtown Creek plant is the largest of New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants. The plant serves approximately 1 million residents in a drainage area of more than 15,000 acres (25 square miles). The plant began operation in 1967 and currently treats 18% of the City’s wastewater with a capacity of 310 million gallons per day (mgd) during dry weather. Upgrade work began in 1998 and will eventually raise plant capacity to 700 mgd during wet weather storms. The upgraded plant will serve a projected population of 1.33 million residents within the relevant drainage area by 2045.

Last September, DEP opened the Waterfront Nature Walk at the Newtown Creek plant, affording the public their first waterfront access to Newtown Creek in decades and advancing Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC goals, ensuring that the public has broader access to the waterfront and increasing water quality throughout the City’s waterways. The Nature Walk was designed by renowned environmental sculptor George Trakas through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program in conjunction with DEP’s ongoing upgrade of the plant. The quarter-mile nature walk offers stunning views of the City and of the nearby industrial landscape, as well as many unique architectural features, plantings and construction techniques that were designed by Trakas to evoke the rich, continually evolving environmental, industrial and cultural histories of the local area.

pan_1298_1301_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the vantage offered by the walkway suspended over the ovum shaped structures, one can observe the “old cities” of Newtown and Bushwick in the manner of Odin, sitting upon the Hlidsjalf. Huginn and Muninn are absent, of course, their wise council and far seeing observations sorely missed.


The steel trusses of the catwalks were delivered on site, hoisted into place by three tower cranes,and pinned in place.Above The stainless steel claddingoffers exceptional corrosion resistance,an important quality in a facility thatprocesses 1.8 million gallons of sludge per day.

Though early ESD facilities were constructed of poured-in-place concrete, the difficulty and cost of forming the complex shapes necessary for such construction finalized the DEP’s decision to shift the primary material to steel throughout. At the Newtown Creek facility, Polshek crowned and linked the ESDs with steel and glass aerial walkways and turrets that glow like lanterns at night. Steel’s speed of construction, flexibility, and lighter load weight were pivotal factors in the construction phase, as the congested conditions of the 24-hour site required a constant coordination of logistics between architects, engineers, contractors, and facility technicians. With steel, sections of the aerial walkways could be pre-fabricated and assembled on location with minimalscaffolding and workmanship, allowing connections to be welded and bolted in an efficient and convenient way.

The aerial walkways and turrets are made up of a variety of steel members, including structural tubes of ASTM A500 Grade B steel, structural pipe of ASTM A53 Grade B steel, and other shapes and plates of ASTM A36 U.O.N.steel. The turrets are framed with W10x15, W10x33, and W24x68 wide flange members, while the walkways spanning the distance between them are composed of steel trusses made up of W8x15 diagonal braces, W10x22 crossbeams, and W24x104 main beams. Each truss weighs approximately 30 tons.Originally intended as a pedestrian concourse around the ground floor of the plant, architects chose to elevate the walkway due to security concerns and the impracticality of foot traffic between the wide-bases of the ESD’s. But life at the top is not without its challenges. To equalize air pressure and wind loading, the aerial walkways’ enclosure is composed of a series of independent, non-connecting components; a slight separation between the stunning metal roof and the glass paneled siding creates a kind of vented cladding system that allows sufficient air to move in and out of the enclosure under applied air pressure. “These things we knew from the beginning were going to be structural steel elements; there are movement joints in the aerial walkway system that keeps them from cracking at the ends,” saysPolshek architect Greg Clawson.“They’re bridges, basically.” Each walkway section has a pinned connection at one end and a slidingconnection at the other end. The sliding connection sits on a ž-inchbearing plate with a ź-inch Teflonbearing pad.

The walkways were delivered to the site in mainly pre fabricated, shop welded sections. In some instances, other sections were shipped loose for field welding, then fastened in place with structural grade bolts. The main structural work of the aerial walkways was set in place one month after the completion of the digester tanks,which took 102 weeks to complete,at an average of about three months per egg.With diameters of 84 feet and heights of 90 feet, each of the eight egg digesters is clad in S31600 stainless steel, with a low-reflectivity proprietary finish. Similarly, the aerial walkways are clad in an epoxy finish that offers exceptional resistance to atmospheric corrosion and oxidation—key strengths for a facility meant to process 1.8 million gallons of sludge per day. “All the materials throughout are selected to be incredibly durable because it’s a very corrosive environment.” explains Richard Olcott. “Not only because of the salt air and the river air, but because the materials need to last for hundreds of years. Like any other of the projects that were constructed a hundred years ago, you have to build these things to last.”

ret_g10_img_1293_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the not so distant past, when New York was the port of embarkation for the world, mariners would comment on the acres long slicks of sewage and garbage which characterized its harbor- and remark upon the multitudes of animal corpses floating in the rivers. In those days of pack animals and horse carriages, a secondary sewage flow of animal waste tormented the population. In a Newtown Pentacle posting from June 4, 2009, the details of the old Tammany system for disposing of waste in New York City (at Newtown Creek, of course) was explored- check out “The Night Soil and Offal Docks, and Jello“.

from wikipedia

Sludge is a generic term for solids separated from suspension in a liquid. This ‘soupy’ material usually contains significant quantities of ‘interstitial’ water (between the solid particles). Commonly sludge refers to the residual, semi-solid material left from industrial wastewater, or sewage treatment processes. It can also refer to the settled suspension obtained from conventional drinking water treatment, and numerous other industrial processes.

When fresh sewage or wastewater is added to a settling tank, approximately 50% of the suspended solid matter will settle out in an hour and a half. This collection of solids is known as raw sludge or primary solids and is said to be “fresh” before anaerobic processes become active. The sludge will become putrescent in a short time once anaerobic bacteria take over, and must be removed from the sedimentation tank before this happens.

This is accomplished in one of two ways. In an Imhoff tank, fresh sludge is passed through a slot to the lower story or digestion chamber where it is decomposed by anaerobic bacteria, resulting in liquefaction and reduced volume of the sludge. After digesting for an extended period, the result is called “digested” sludge and may be disposed of by drying and then landfilling. More commonly with domestic sewage, the fresh sludge is continuously extracted from the tank mechanically and passed to separate sludge digestion tanks that operate at higher temperatures than the lower story of the Imhoff tank and, as a result, digest much more rapidly and efficiently.

Excess solids from biological processes such as activated sludge may still be referred to as sludge, but the term biosolids, is more commonly used to refer to the material, particularly after further processing such as aerobic composting. Industrial wastewater solids are also referred to as sludge, whether generated from biological or physical-chemical processes. Surface water plants also generate sludge made up of solids removed from the raw water.

ret_g10_img_1296_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Surprisingly, the expected aroma was absent. The catwalks are well ventilated, and in many places open to the air via strategic apertures. Our Lady of the Pentacle and I once had the opportunity to visit NASA in Florida, and received a behind the scenes- clean suit and hairnet- tour of the Space Shuttle’s maintenance facility. A similar sense memory hung around these Greenpoint catwalks, a sensation that one was in the presence of the highest application of scientific understanding and scientific accumen.

from wikipedia

Sewage is created by residences, institutions, hospitals and commercial and industrial establishments. Raw influent (sewage) includes household waste liquid from toilets, baths, showers, kitchens, sinks, and so forth that is disposed of via sewers. In many areas, sewage also includes liquid waste from industry and commerce.

The separation and draining of household waste into greywater and blackwater is becoming more common in the developed world, with greywater being permitted to be used for watering plants or recycled for flushing toilets. A lot of sewage also includes some surface water from roofs or hard-standing areas. Municipal wastewater therefore includes residential, commercial, and industrial liquid waste discharges, and may include stormwater runoff. Sewage systems capable of handling stormwater are known as combined systems or combined sewers. Such systems are usually avoided since they complicate and thereby reduce the efficiency of sewage treatment plants owing to their seasonality. The variability in flow also leads to often larger than necessary, and subsequently more expensive, treatment facilities. In addition, heavy storms that contribute more flows than the treatment plant can handle may overwhelm the sewage treatment system, causing a spill or overflow (called a combined sewer overflow, or CSO, in the United States). It is preferable to have a separate storm drain system for stormwater in areas that are developed with sewer systems.

As rainfall runs over the surface of roofs and the ground, it may pick up various contaminants including soil particles and other sediment, heavy metals, organic compounds, animal waste, and oil and grease. Some jurisdictions require stormwater to receive some level of treatment before being discharged directly into waterways. Examples of treatment processes used for stormwater include sedimentation basins, wetlands, buried concrete vaults with various kinds of filters, and vortex separators (to remove coarse solids).

ret_g10_img_1285_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Many in the Greenpoint community have compared the organic curves of the digester eggs to mammalian breasts, using a vernacular phrase too vulgar for those gentle eyes that our Newtown Pentacle readership possesses. Associations of sewer systems with a feminine principle is an ancient tradition, dating back to the Etruscans and brought to maturity by the Romans.


…Sewage originating south of E. 73rd Street is conveyed to the Newtown Creek WPCP. Sewage is transferred by combined sewers along E. 70th Street and E. 71st Street, which connect with the combined sewer along York Avenue.  The Newtown Creek WPCP, with a rated design capacity of 310 mgd, discharges the effluent into the East River.  The 2002 average dry weather flow of the Newtown Creek WPCP is 216 mgd and the average total flow is 229 mgd.

The water quality of the East River and New York Harbor is detrimentally affected by the presence of combined sewers, producing the condition known as combined sewer overflow during storm events.  Combined sewers convey sanitary sewage and stormwater in a partially separated pipe, which during a storm event allows for high levels of stormwater to spill over the partition and mix with the sanitary sewage.  During such storm events the WPCP is estimated to accommodate the increased flow.  The result is the discharge of contaminated stormwater into the East River in the area of HSS.  The City has implemented measures to control combined sewer overflow with the installation of combined sewer overflow retention tanks that hold the contaminated stormwater during a storm event and later conveys it to a wastewater treatment plant and with the initiation of the floatables control program which utilizes floating containment barriers at some outfalls and skimmers on the water bodies where the contaminated stormwater  has been discharged.  The floatables control program has been implemented in the area near HSS, thus reducing the impact of storm event discharge.

The Newtown Creek WPCP, constructed in 1967, was designed with a modified aeration system to reduce biological oxygen demand (BOD) levels and total suspended solids (TSS).  The levels of treatment were designed with the intention of maintaining fish health and navigability.  The effluent is below the required treatment levels set in the Clean Water Act of 1974 for full secondary wastewater treatment.  As a result, the City has implemented interim steps of treatment at the Newtown Creek WPCP until the upgrade of the plant is completed, which is expected by the end of 2007.

ret_g10_img_1290_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This temple of the goddess, risen over the ancient Newtown Creek, allowed me new and unguessed at perspectives on subjects I’ve only known from the muddy and broken pavement surrounding the relict waterway. Pictured is the span of the LIE as it passes over the Dutch Kills.


Mankind has routinely sought, through the ages, strength and guidance from the spirit world.

The Romans, during the course of their Empire (650 BCE – 400 AD), worshipped many deities … one of them being the Goddess Cloacina – in whom they placed their faith/trust for the well being of Rome’s sewers (and workers); a facet of Rome’s public works infrastructure that was considered vital to their desired way of life – good health through sanitation.

Cloacina was the patron goddess of the Cloaca Maxima (the main drain of the City) and the city’s overall sewer system.  Over time, the Romans came to also think of her in a multitude of other ways including; as the goddess of purity, the goddess of filth and the protector of sexual intercourse in marriage.  As such, over the ages, she came to be affiliated with Venus; and, gradually became known to many as the Venus Cloacina.

ret_g10_img_1262_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve heard through rumor and municipal gossip that upon completion, the lighting of the Digester Eggs will be changed to a purple hue, from its current blue. I stridently hope that this is idle talk, as purple and green are the signature colors of comic book villainy, and this facility would be an ideal lair for some megalomaniac to concoct their schemes.


Cloacina is a very ancient Goddess of Rome Who was originally the Goddess of the stream called the Cloaca which ran through the early Roman Forum. In the earliest times the Forum area was a low marshy place prone to flooding by the Tiber and dotted with springs, and too swampy for human use except in times of drought. The Cloaca stream, which drained into the Tiber, was said to have seven tributary brooks that drained all the valleys of the Esquiline and Quirinal hills. In early times the stream was dredged out and lined with stone to make a drainage canal, most likely by the Tarquins, early Kings of Rome, and in time it was covered over to become the main drain of Rome. The course of the original waterway and tributary streams dictated the layout of the buildings and streets of the Forum, for the Romans were reluctant to alter its course in their conservative superstitious respect for the natural spirits or powers. The name Cloacina means “the Purifier”, and the word cloaca became the word for “drain” or “sewer”; in time Cloacina became the Goddess of Sewers. Which sounds terribly unromantic; remember though that the Romans were a very practical people, and that the complex sewer and drainage system that Rome developed kept the city clean, funnelling refuse and rainwater out and away, as well as draining the potentially malaria-infested swamps of the Forum, all of which helped to keep the populace healthy.

The sewer system that grew out of this drainage scheme in the Forum was called the Cloaca Maxima (“the Great Sewer”) and was eventually made up of great underground vaulted tunnels that were large enough for boats to journey in, and strong enough to withstand floods and great storms. Though much of it ran under the Forum, the Cloaca Maxima was sturdy enough to support the roads and buildings erected over it; even if a building burned (as occasionally happened) and collapsed the Cloaca Maxima held up. Parts of it were as wide as 10′ 6″, and as high as 13′ 9″; or rather are, for it is still in use today in Rome, 2000+ years later.

ret_g10_img_1306_ohny2.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour over, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself headed around the plant to visit the Newtown Creek Wastewaster Treatment Facility Nature Walk. I’ll discuss this in another post, but for what it is, its a great little park and suggests where the City planners might be taking the waterfront of Newtown Creek.

from Wikipedia

The Cloaca Maxima was one of the world’s earliest sewage systems. Constructed in ancient Rome in order to drain local marshes and remove the waste of one of the world’s most populous cities, it carried an effluent to the River Tiber, which ran beside the city.

The name literally means Greatest Sewer. According to tradition it may have been initially constructed around 600 BC under the orders of the king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus.

This public work was largely achieved through the use of Etruscan engineers and large amounts of semi-forced labour from the poorer classes of Roman citizens.

Although Livy describes it as being tunnelled out beneath Rome, he was writing centuries after the event. From other writings and from the path that it takes, it seems more likely that it was originally an open drain, formed from streams from three of the neighbouring hills, that were channelled through the main Forum and then on to the Tiber. This open drain would then have been gradually built over, as building space within the city became more valuable. It is possible that both theories are correct, and certainly some of the lower parts of the system suggest that they would have been below ground level even at the time of the supposed construction.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

22 Responses

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  1. […] the blasted earth of storied Greenpoint- after visiting the Temple of Cloacina- Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to visit the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, and on our way […]

  2. […] the blasted earth of storied Greenpoint- after visiting the Temple of Cloacina- Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to visit the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, and on our […]

  3. […] the City of New York’s DEP manages 14 of (including the vast Temple of Cloacina called the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant), the concentrated sludge distillate produced by municipal sewage plants requires […]

  4. […] yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left […]

  5. […] yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle […]

  6. […] A Newtown Pentacle posting from October of 2009 explored this Temple of Cloacina, which is a 24 hours a day municipal workhorse. The plant processes a significant percentage of the 1.1 billion gallons of sewage New York produces every day, delivering it in a milled and concentrated form to a pumping tank and dock in Greenpoint directly across the Creek from the forthcoming Hunters Point South development which is just starting on the Queens shoreline. In still another posting, we followed some sludge boats- the M/V Newtown Creek, North River, and the Red Hook, as they traveled past Hallet’s Cove and Astoria up the East River. […]

  7. […] Sea proceeded up the Creek, no paddles required or missed. She sauntered past FreshDirect and the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant at Whale Creek, churning the languid gelatins which line the Newtown Creek as it went. This must be […]

  8. […] destinations for the Red Hook could include storied Greenpoint, where the product of the Temple of Cloacina might require transport, or the Wards Island facility where the syrupy product of New York’s […]

  9. […] Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant […]

  10. […] waterways which act as tributaries to its main course. In the past we have visited Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek… today, it’s time for a visit to the vicious end of it […]

  11. […] endless wanderings found your humble narrator once more at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk, always an easy egress point for […]

  12. […] remains of the putrescent particulates which escape treatment by wastewater industries like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint or the Bowery Bay facility in […]

  13. […] I’ve been haunting and annoying the DEP staff at the Temple of Cloacina in Greenpoint and have personally witnessed the actual bowels of New York City- with my camera. […]

  14. […] Lucid and unwholesome, witness this sky flung perspective of the backbone of New York City- vantaged from several hundred feet above the Newtown Creek and it’s little known tributary- Whale Creek, and high atop the digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. […]

  15. […] Waxman entered one of the eggs on tour, and came back […]

  16. […] missive adorned a lamp post on Greenpoint Avenue, one which is directly across the street from the high temple of Cloacina, known to most as the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment […]

  17. […] The official site of the eggs is here, but the others are just more fun, and for thoroughness (fun, history, photos, philosophy, black humor) no one can beat the Newtown Pentacle! […]

  18. […] including the future of the Arch Street Yard, the Hunters Point South development, SimsMetal, the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Greenpoint petroleum district, the Blissville Oil spill, the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the Phelps […]

  19. […] activist and author of The Newtown Pentacle covers in great detail the activities at Newtown Creek: Wastewater Treatment Plant.  I recommend getting to know his writing as it is always informative and […]

  20. […] fuel barge combinations like the Crystal Cutler, which is pictured above. The digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are visible in the shot above as well, as is Manhattan’s iconic Empire State […]

  21. […] Newtown Pentacle’s Mitch Waxman entered one of the eggs on tour, and came back […]

  22. […] Newtown Pentacle’s Mitch Waxman entered one of the eggs on tour, and came back […]

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