Harlem Sewage Spill Closes Four Beaches

By Jeff Mays on July 27, 2011 7:49am 

HARLEM—City officials closed four beaches in Staten Island and Brooklyn because of last week's fire and explosion that that knocked the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem offline and sent hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into the Hudson River.

After ordering beach-goers to stay out of the water at South Beach, Midland Beach and Cedar Grove Beach on Staten Island and Brooklyn's Sea Gate Beach Friday, the Department of Environmental Protection closed the beaches Tuesday.

"Recent water quality samples from these beaches have shown elevated levels of bacteria related to the untreated sewage discharges from the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant that occurred last week," the DEP wrote in an alert.

"The decision to close these beaches was based on a review of both water flow through the harbor and an evaluation of actual water samples taken at the shoreline," the alert added.

The Hudson and East rivers, closed to swimmers and kayakers after the sewage discharge, is still off limits. City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, downplayed the long-term impact of the sewage being sent into the river.

A blaze in the engine room last Wednesday sent a huge plume of black smoke into the air and knocked out the plant's five engines. DEP officials said at least 200 million gallons of untreated sewage was jettisoned into the Hudson between Wednesday and Friday night.

Two of the plant's five engines were back online by 9:30 p.m. Friday night, when stored and incoming sewage began undergoing partial treatment.

A manhole fire early Saturday knocked the plant offline once more, and sewage once again spilled into the river at a rate of 15 to 20 million gallons per day until the engines were restored later that afternoon. Riverbank Park also reopened Saturday after being closed since Wednesday's fire.

The plant, located underneath Riverbank Park on the Hudson River, west of the Henry Hudson Parkway from 137th Street to 145th Street, serves the west side of Manhattan from Greenwich Village to Inwood.

About 125 million gallons of wastewater is treated at the plant every day when the weather is dry. That only requires two of the plant's five engines. When it rains, the plant may require its full five engines to process about 340 million gallons of sewage a day.

That, however, is still not enough to prevent hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage and rain runoff from being funneled into the river during wet weather. The practice keeps the city's combined sewer systems from becoming overwhelmed.

Last year, as much as 30 billion gallons of untreated sewage and rain runoff was dispelled into the city's waterways.

The North River Wastewater Treatment Plant funneled 800 million gallons of untreated sewage and rain runoff into the Hudson last year, according to DEP reports.

The DEP said Tuesday it was making progress restoring a third engine. An additional pumping system was also brought online that is capable of pumping 12 million gallons of sewage per day.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat has called for an investigation.

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