The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for April 17th, 2013

crawl circuitously

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last week, as a dramatic downpour doused New York City, your humble narrator was at a Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint debating the finer points of some signage which the DEP wants to hang on their fence line at the plant and for which they were seeking community input. When the clouds burst, however, and rain began to lash at the windows- one grabbed for the camera and headed to the door. If you’re at the largest sewer plant in New York City during a cloudburst, you take some pictures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A quarter inch of rain, citywide, becomes a raging river of one billion gallons surging through the combined sewer system. Combined sewers, a term indicating that storm and sanitary sewers share the same pipes, are one of the City’s “original sins.” This billion gallon per quarter inch torrent has no where to go except for sewers, which when added to the regular sewage flow, “outfalls” into those waterways which distinguish and define our little archipelago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The system of waste water treatment plants which are maintained by the DEP can handle some of this flow, using ingenious systems of weirs and diversion tunnels to slow down and store it for treatment, but a lot of the water hurtling through their network of sometimes centuries old pipe ends up going directly into the environment untreated. This is the problem which most afflicts my beloved Newtown Creek, but its also a big part of what’s wrong with the East and Hudson Rivers as well as all the smaller waterways found all around the harbor. This is also the reason why advisories are issued not to swim at area beaches following a storm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, there’s little that can be practically done about it. If we who are taxed asked those who are elected to spend our money to remedy the situation, the astronomical bill incurred would bankrupt the Municipal, State, and quite possibly the Federal governments. It would involve opening up every street in New York City, remapping the gravity driven sewer system which has grown in spurts over the last 300 years, and begin building a brand new dual system. This would be catastrophically expensive, disruptive to every facet of the community, and take decades.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A simple thing each of us can do, based on an old adage- don’t waste a gallon of water on a pint of piss- is simply to not flush the toilet unnecessarily when its raining. By not adding your “constituents” to the flow during rain events, and I mean number one not two, you can help alleviate a significant amount of stress on the system and ensure that sewage does not wash out into the harbor with the storm water. This may seem “gross,” but here’s the question- can you tolerate leaving a bit of urine in the toilet for an hour or two until it stops raining or would you rather swim or boat in your own piss tomorrow?

Also: Upcoming Tours!

Glittering Realms Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

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