The NYC Dept. of Envionrmental Protection (DEP), under a consent order from the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have installed an aeration system in Newtown Creek to raise dissolved oxygen levels in the water above a required level of 3 mg/L to allow for fish survival. The system consists of blower buildings which pump air through long plastic pipes that sits on the creek floor. Currently, 1/3 of total proposed project is installed, the NC-2 section that covers most of English Kills. Over the next few years the city plans to install two other sections: NC-3 which runs from a blower building in Maspeth and NC-4 which is focussed on Dutch Kills and the lower Newtown Creek (see map here).

Since 2011, Newtown Creek Alliance and various partner organizations, including Riverkeeper, have sought to challenge the aeration project in Newtown Creek. To date, we have raised a number of concerns about the project including:

Unclear evidence on the need for aeration and effectiveness of the system in place. In examining recent DO levels from areas of the main channel of the Creek, we found that water is above the 3 mg/L threshold most of the time already, and at higher levels than other areas of NY Harbor (see 2016 data2015 data and 2014 data).  Additionally, we do not believe that aeration reflects current water quality realities within Newtown Creek. To illustrate we have created a chart showing data used as basis for requiring aeration (1984 to 2003) versus recent data findings (2014 to 2016) – see chart here. Additionally, it is unclear when the currently installed aeration is actually needed to reach the 3 mg/L threshold. The current aeration runs continuously from May through September without reflecting actual DO levels. Recent DEP data shows that low oxygen levels tend to follow CSO discharges, which is both a justification for investing in reduction of CSO and revising operation procedures of the aeration system.

The potential health impacts caused by aerosolizing bacteria and chemical contaminants that lie within the sediments and water column of Newtown Creek, a federally designated superfund site. DEP, DEC and Dept. of Health have all acknowledged the possibility of releasing pollutants into the air column but not taken action to properly assess it’s impact. Additionally, DEP has acknowledged that the Turning Basin area of the Creek will not be aerated because of concern over contaminated sediments. We agree with the concern but do not understand why this does not apply to the entire Newtown Creek. We have not received a clear answer on this topic to date.

Poor investment of $115 million to treat symptoms of a problem and not the actual cause, which is primarily the discharging of untreated sewage via CSOs. Capturing CSO is expensive and we spending resources to not tackle the source seems unwise.

Lack of long-term plan for use of the aeration system. While the final phase of aeration, NC-4 has been delayed and will be reviewed as part of the Long Term Control Plan for Newtown Creek (2017), we continue to question the value of pursuing a project that only addresses DO levels, when water quality standards, of which the consent order is based, have recently been upgraded to also include bacteria levels. In this case, aeration alone will not fulfill the consent order of reaching water quality standard for an SD waterbody.

Lack of engagement with communities that live near to and use the Creek for various purposes. To date, there has been no public meeting focussed solely on aeration and recent requests by community activists and elected officials alike have been declined.

Reliance on a mechanical solution that consumes electricity thus contributing to further release of  greenhouse gases and working against city and state climate goals. We continue to urge the agencies to consider more natural solutions that can be more cost effective and have a positive environmental impact in addition to improving DO levels.

As of 2016 the aeration system is fully installed within the English Kills tributary (NC-2), construction has begun on East Branch (NC-3) and expansion into the main channel of Newtown Creek and the Dutch Kills tributary (NC-4) is still a possibility. It is our hope to re-open conversations with the NYC DEP and NYS DEC and engage greater community comment. We seek to delay advancement of NC-4 and address effectiveness of currently installed segments. Below is more background on our dealings with this issue. Click here to see video of aeration in progress.

Formal letters to and from agencies:

April 17, 2020 letter from NCA/Riverkeeper to DEP/DEC in regards to COVID-19

March 22, 2016 letter from NCA/Riverkeeper to USACE

August 28th, 2015 letter from DEC/DEP to NC CAG and NCA

June 11th, 2015 letter from NC CAG to DEC 

June 9th, 2015 letter from NCA to DEC 

February 11, 2015 letter from NCA to DEP and DEC 

April 3rd, 2014 response letter from DEP to Riverkeeper

January 10th, 2014 letter from Riverkeeper/NCA/NBBC to DEP 

March 9th, 2012 letter from NCA to DEC

March 9th, 2012 letter from Riverkeeper to DEC

November 18th, 2011 letter from NCA to DEC

Previous press and references:

CityLimits (August 2018)

2012 research study by Elias Dueker and Greg O’Mullan

2012 Riverkeeper post regarding potential health risk


Brooklyn Paper

Queens Chronicle