Gowanus Canal Water Upgrades to Complete by Year-End

May 14, 2013 Updated: May 14, 2013

NEW YORK—A water quality upgrade at the Gowanus Canal is on schedule for completion by year-end despite setbacks from Hurricane Sandy flooding.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the news on May 13 outside a wastewater pump station, which is expected to reduce sewer overflows into the canal by 30 percent when it is completed. Another upgrade is to a tunnel that will bring oxygen-rich water from the Buttermilk Channel to improve water quality in the canal.

Flooding due to Hurricane Sandy caused over 10 billion gallons of raw and partly treated sewage to gush in to the streets and waterways in NYC, according to a recent report by Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists focused on the impacts of climate change. 

The Gowanus Canal design was flawed upon construction and its condition has been degenerating for years. The murky waters blocks out sunlight necessary for underwater plant growth, while the oxygen content in the water is insufficient to sustain life.

The goal of the upgrades is to bring the water quality in the canal to a level where boating would eventually be permitted. Construction broke ground in 2009.

Neighborhood residents pointed out that a recent plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture overflow water in retention basins could further eliminate gaseous emissions from the water. 

Bloomberg responded at the press conference that the plan was considered, but eventually it was decided it was not financially viable.

“This is great, but we need to do more,” said Lizzy Olesker, a local resident.

Oleskar pointed out that the city could have done more, as it did not work with the federal government’s Superfund to clean up the sediment at the bottom of the canal. Bloomberg responded that the Superfund has been lacking in terms of delivery, and that cleaning up the sediment is not necessary in order to make the canal suitable for boating.

Oleskar also said that there has been a push for development in the area. 

The Lightstone Group recently received approval to construct a high-rise tower complex. Oleskar suggested that the drive to clean up the canal may be due to development pressure.

“They want to turn this into another Williamsburg,” said Oleskar.

The Gowanus Canal is 1.8 miles long and borders the neighborhoods of Red Hook, Park Slope, and Sunset Park. The area around the canal is a flood zone, and floods regularly during heavy rains.

The Bloomberg administration has invested over $20 billion in water quality upgrades since 2002. Half of the dollars spent are allocated for protecting New York City’s water supply, and $9.5 billion is allocated for wastewater treatment and to make the waterway cleaner.