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Revolting Video Shows What Sewage Flowing Into Newtown Creek Looks Like

By Gwynne Hogan | May 17, 2016 5:10pm
 This is what poop looks like flowing into Newtown Creek.
This is what poop looks like flowing into Newtown Creek.
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Newtown Creek Alliance

GREENPOINT — This is what it looks like up s--t's creek. 

A revolting video published by Newtown Creek Alliance on its Facebook page reveals exactly what "Combined Sewage Overflow" looks like, or in laymen's terms, what happens when rainwater causes the city's sewage system to exceed capacity, and raw sewage gets released directly into waterways. 

This video was taken on Friday near the origin of the Maspeth Creek, which flows into Newtown Creek and then out to the East River, said Willis Elkins a project manager for the Newtown Creek Alliance.

Just a quarter of an inch of rain fell that day, according to data from the National Weather Service, though raw sewage can be released into the waterways when as little as a tenth of an inch of rain falls, according to the Alliance.

"What you saw in the video is happening 58 times a year," said Elkins, referring the specific sewage release point captured in the video.

At this one location, 570,000 gallons of raw sewage are released a year, according to modeling from Newtown Creek Alliance, though there are dozens of other spots along the waterway where raw sewage is released.  A few of those spots spew excrement far more frequently and in greater quantities.

At the head of the East Branch tributary of the creek near Metropolitan and Onderdonk avenues, 980,000 gallons of raw sewage are released on about 69 occasions per year, according to the alliance's analysis.

But, said Elkins, these release points are mostly out of sight, and thus, out of mind. 

"It's hidden away in this industrial area...a lot of these [Combined Sewage Overflows] are really hard to actually even see," Elkins said. "They're tucked away."

"Actually seeing what it looks like can change people's opinion about it," he said.

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, the city's largest sewage treatment plant, is located on the creek's banks in Greenpoint, meaning water from all over is funneling towards it.

In some cases when it rains the facility doesn't have the capacity to treat all the incoming water and is forced to stop taking it in, closing off a gate that diverts excess water that hasn't yet been treated directly into the Newtown Creek, according to the city's Department of Environmental Protection, though it did not respond to a request for comment.

In December, clean water advocate Christopher Swain swam the length of the creek, also on a slightly rainy day, and said he dodged floating waste along the way.

"This is one of the more modern cities in the world and yet we're still treating our waterways like it's 1900," Elkins said.

While Friday's video is pretty grim, there are plans for increased green infrastructure along Newtown Creek's banks to absorb rainwater runoff.

And the city recently launched a pilot program called "Wait," for residents of an area adjacent to Newtown Creek, based on an earlier notification system run by the Newtown Creek Alliance.

Starting this summer, if you sign up for text notifications when the sewage system is overwhelmed, you could put off washing clothes, showering, flushing toilets, and other activities that generate excess water until the treatment facility catches up to the water load.