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Famously, the City of Greater New York possesses what is known as a “combined sewer” system. We’re not unique, many of the East Coast cities of the United States manage their waste water in a similar fashion. “Combined” indicates that sanitary (toilet water, kitchen sink etc.) waste water travels underground in the same pipes that carry storm water and snow melt. In comparison, the younger cities of the West Coast – Los Angeles, for instance – have distinct infrastructure for sanitary and storm. In our case, during rain events, the combined flow often gets released into area waterways like the East River or my beloved Newtown Creek. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection – DEP – does what it can to keep that from happening, but a quarter inch of rain citywide translates into a billion gallons of water roaring around under the streets. Fixing this situation is a municipal Gordian Knot, and would involve a massive investment in infrastructure that would raise your water bills so high that you’d happily pay $5 a liter for bottled water. I’m told that DEP has a long term plan they’re working on, which will play out over several decades, to ameliorate the issue.

That’s the setting for today’s tale, wherein I’d like to point out a seldom noticed bit of street/sewer infrastructure.

More after the jump…

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Ubiquitous articles of street furniture such as fireboxes and manhole covers endlessly fascinate me. Fire hydrants and mail boxes are so common that most don’t even notice them, whereas I have been known to literally send a congratulatory email to City Planning when a comely new design of street bench appears in Queens.

Something I’ve always been curious about, and I mean since I was a kid, is what might be going on inside those “N.Y.C. Drinking Water Sampling Stations” which you generally don’t notice that are found on certain streets in nearly every neighborhood. The one pictured above is located on 39th street, just south of Skillman Avenue at the border of Sunnyside.

From nyc.gov:

Water for the system is impounded in three upstate reservoir systems which include 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes with a total storage capacity of approximately 580 billion gallons. The three water collection systems were designed and built with various interconnections to increase flexibility by permitting exchange of water from one to another. This feature mitigates localized droughts and takes advantage of excess water in any of the three watersheds.

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According to a presentation given recently by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection at a Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group meeting the phase out a 800,000-gallon sludge storage tank and dock in Greenpoint is moving forward. DEC will replace the dock and tank, which has been in place since 1967, with new infrastructure that is around the corner from the Greenpoint dock on the Newtown Creek and is much closer to the wastewater treatment plant that produces the sludge. This move makes room for an expanded Newtown Park and is a step in the the much larger Greenpoint Williamsburg Waterfront Access Plan.

Google has captured a good picture of a DEP boat docked at the storage tank in Greenpoint (GMAP).

 

You’ve seen the DEP sludge boats a million times going up and down the East River.


 Photo Courtesy Mitch Waxman