Since 2012, Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper have sought to challenge the aeration project in Newtown Creek – an automated air blower system intended to increase dissolved oxygen levels. To date, we have raised a number of concerns about the project – including potential health impacts, the lack of sustained impact and poor investment of $115 million – but to no avail in convincing the city and state to reconsider alternative approaches. The project is fully installed within the English Kills tributary but expansion of the project into the main channel of Newtown Creek and the Dutch Kills tributary have yet to receive notices to proceed. In addition to our formerly expressed concerns about the project, there are specific reasons for the state and city to reconsider the expansion. It is our hope to re-open conversations with the NYC DEP and NYS DEC and engage greater community comment on the expansion of the project. Below are our additional concerns opposing expansion of the project.
Expansion of the aeration project into the main channel of Newtown Creek is unwarranted.
The main goal of the aeration installation is to increase dissolved oxygen levels in Newtown Creek above a standard of 3 mg/L. We fully appreciate that under 3 mg/L is a dangerously low amount, but data shows that dissolved oxygen levels in the main channel of the creek, where expansion of the aeration is planned, are in fact commonly above the 3 mg/L threshold already. Additionally, when examining data from the NYC Harbor Survey there are a number of other waterways in New York City with dissolved oxygen readings under 3 mg/L more frequent than the Newtown Creek sites in question. For instance, with site NC1 (where the aeration expansion is planned) 87% of samples taken in the summer months of 2014 were above 3 mg/L. At other sites results were much worse: 73% at Coney Island Creek; 65% at Westchester Creek; 48% at Hendrix Creek; and 41% at the Bronx River. All this to ask: why is aeration being pursued for areas of Newtown Creek that have dissolved oxygen levels above 3 mg/L more often than other parts of NY harbor? Although it is unclear what data was used in forming the basis for installing the aeration project we feel that based on this most recent data it is unwarranted to expand the aeration project into the main channel of Newtown Creek. By not expanding aeration into the main channel, the city could save multiple millions of dollars that could otherwise be better invested in areas like Green Infrastructure that would have lasting benefit to the health of Newtown Creek.
Use Dutch Kills to pilot ‘green’ alternative solutions to low dissolved oxygen levels.
The Dutch Kills tributary is one of the most unique areas of the creek. It is totally void of commercial maritime traffic, has become a focussed area of study for environmental science students at neighboring LaGuardia Community College (LGCC), is a frequent destination for environmental education canoe trips led by the North Brooklyn Boat Club and has tremendous potential for wetland restoration. There has been documented interest and efforts to pursue restored salt marsh habitat in Dutch Kills for a number of years, including the work led by LGCC professor Sarah Durand. Dr. Durand’s work has demonstrated that cordgrass and ribbed mussels can thrive at the very head of Dutch Kills, despite poor water quality conditions. If pursued on a larger scale wetland restoration could mitigate the negative impacts of CSO discharges that drive the low dissolved oxygen conditions in question. There are numerous advantages of implementing a natural system (ie wetland habitat) over an engineered aeration strategy including: having long term impact, no energy footprint, habitat creation for wildlife and certainty of no potential health risk to community (via aerosolization of bacteria). Given all these reasons we urge the NYSDEC and NYCDEP to consider employing green alternative solutions within Dutch Kills to increase and stabilize dissolved oxygen levels. Such a pilot could also prove beneficial to the many other small waterways around NYC that also suffer low dissolved oxygen levels in the summer.