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Newtown Creek Weather Stations Attempt to Protect Water Users

By Meredith Hoffman | September 26, 2012 8:13am | Updated on September 26, 2012 9:16am

GREENPOINT — Activists eager to protect local residents from Newtown Creek's volatile pollution levels are attempting to predict the water's fluctuations with their latest project.

Weather stations on the roofs of the Brooklyn and Queens libraries will soon monitor the rainfall and temperatures in the watershed of Newtown Creek, to determine when sewage might overflow in the creek. The long-contaminated waterway, affected by decades of oil spills, is still the victim of sewage dumps that worsen with the weather, environmentalist Kate Zidar said.

"What really influences the creek today is the weather and the sewer system," said Zidar, director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, which is spearheading the project. "For example when snow melts quickly, the sewer system can fail quickly."

Zidar said that the only weather stations in the city, at the two airports, share information about too large an area to determine the specific conditions in the creek's watershed, which includes Greenpoint, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Maspeth and Long Island City.

"The city has a major information gap about being able to predict what's coming into the sewer system," she said, "and there are 14 different sewage treatment plants, so you need to look closer."

But Zidar said she hoped the weather stations — six which have already been installed, and another three that will soon be in place — would help groups like the North Brooklyn Boat Club and others who use the creek make "educated decisions" about when and how to go on the water.

"We're going to be able to create an alert that says there's a potential for an overflow," she said, "and who might use that alert are people who work or recreate on the water."

Data from the stations will be broadcast on the website of the Newtown Creek Alliance, as well as those of advocates S.W.I.M. Coalition and Dontflush.me.

"At the beginning it's going to be a less precise tool," Zidar said, noting that it was unclear exactly how much water it took to overflow the sewers, and that she hoped to share the information with the city's Department of Environmental Protection to develop a better picture of when overflows occurred.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said that the agency would continue to use weather data from the National Oceonagraphic and Atmospheric Administration because they were more scientific reliable. 

"The Newtown Creek watershed includes over 7,000 acres of Brooklyn and Queens and we welcome the public’s help in monitoring the weather," the spokesman said.

Still, Zidar said that citywide partners — including the Hudson River Trust, which helped fund the project — had already taken interest in the project as a necessary step for the whole city.

"This should be done everywhere," she said of the monitoring.