From Sydney Brownstone at L Magazine:
“There’s lots of enterococcus in the audience tonight,” Tracy Brown, an advocate at Riverkeeper, a local water quality watchdog, joked to a crowd of roughly 60-70 people who had filed onto benches at the Brooklyn Brewery Monday night. She was referring to the gut bacteria that scientists use as a measure of water quality—if there’s enterococcus in a river, it means raw sewage has been released there, and recently. As people slowly sipped their lagers, listening to the two presentations on the subject from a representation of local environmental and urban planning organizations, the question that remained was exactly how much beer-addled enterococcus from that night might end up in sludgy sediment piles on the banks of Newtown Creek, a tributary of the Hudson and East Rivers.
The problem Brown and Kate Zidar, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, explored, had to do with something called “combined sewage overflows.” (CSOs). When it rains, a combined sewer system (meaning a sewer system that runs street runoff and residential raw sewage in the same pipes) can become overburdened, so it’ll spew the sewage into surrounding waters. New York Harbor sees about 27 billion gallons of this stuff discharged into it annually, from 460 CSO pipe outlets. With a new injection of federal funding for Newtown Creek’s Superfund status, the Alliance and Riverkeeper are trying to accomplish two main things: closely monitor the water for CSOs and test for the presence of enterococcus at hundreds of different sites up and down Newtown Creek and the Hudson, as well as figure out the best way to solve New York’s shit problem in terms of tax dollars spent.