Brooklyn wrestles with wastewater issues

December 2008 Vol. 63 No. 12

In the ongoing dilemma about what to do about the raw sewage in the Gowanus Canal that runs through South Brooklyn, the city has determined it will repair the flushing tunnel that pumps water from the Buttermilk Channel and turn it off for two years as part of a $300-million cleanup.

To compensate for the deactivated flushing tunnel, the city will attempt to reduce the amount of untreated waste in the Gowanus Canal when heavy rains overflow the aging sewers, otherwise known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The interim system is expected to be in operation from 2009 through 2011.

This is all part of a vision of the Bloomberg Administration for turning parts of the Gowanus area, formerly an industrial hub, into a residential link between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

Repairing the flushing tunnel — which was built in the early part of the last century, failed in the 1960s and was only turned on again in 1999 — is part of the Department of Environmental Protection plans. The agency also wants to finish other extensive work on Brooklyn’s wastewater infrastructure by 2013 that will reduce the hundreds of millions of gallons of raw effluence annually poured into canal by 34 percent.
The project also includes: rehabilitation of a pump station; adding screens to underground pipes to block trash; and continuing a skimmer program to retrieve floating detritus.

Swimming still won’t be allowed because periodic CSOs will not be eliminated. To do that would cost billions. Instead, the more-sanitized Gowanus Canal will meet the criteria for safe kayaking and fish procreation. Raw sewage will still be dumped into the canal.