In a combined sewer system, the combination of stormwater runoff and sewage from buildings is mixed into a single pipe. During heavy rainstorms, the combined sewer discharges are higher than normal, rendering wastewater treatment plants unable to handle the flow.
As a result, the mix is discharged directly into the city’s waterways, such as the Newtown Creek.
The creek was added to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in September 2010, launching a decades-long federal remediation and cleanup of the waterway separating Queens and Brooklyn.
The Newtown Creek Superfund is in the remediation investigation and feasibility study phase, where federal officials determine the extent of the contamination and propose a remedy.
Last June, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s Long-Term Control Plan (LTCP) to reduce CSOs and improve the city’s water quality.
As part of the LTCP, DEP has agreed to construct a storage tunnel to house CSO discharge. According to the EPA, the plan estimates that CSO discharge in the Newtown Creek will be reduced by 61 percent, and would achieve water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act.
As a result, the EPA has determined that the water pollution volume controls in the LTCP are “sufficient” to meet the needs of the future cleanup of the Newtown Creek.
“EPA acknowledges that the work the city is already obliged to do to improve the water quality of Newtown Creek, including major water infrastructure improvements through compliance with the state-imposed long-term CSO control plan, will be consistent with meeting the needs of the Superfund program,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said in a statement.
According to the proposed plan, the EPA had to choose among three remedial alternatives to address the CSO volume discharge. It chose the second alternative, “No Further Action.”
By selecting this option, EPA is assuming that DEP will follow through on its implementation of the proposal.
The EPA also anticipates monitoring the sampling of discharge from the four major CSOs to Newtown Creek “on a quarterly basis” until the plan is fully implemented in 2042.
The cost for monitoring is estimated to be $5 million for quarterly sampling for approximately 22 years.
If there are any persistent increases in chemical concentrations in the CSO, the EPA will consider a “track-back” program to identify sources of elevated contaminants. That effort would also cost $5 million.
Future actions or controls could include sediment traps, oil absorbent pads at the end of CSO discharge pipes, or in-creek maintenance dredging.
While the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA), a community organization working to restore and revitalize the creek, did not have a comment on the EPA’s proposed plan, the group is planning to discuss the plan at its next Community Advisory Group meeting on Monday, December 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services.
When DEP released its plan in October 2017, however, NCA wrote in a comment letter that the proposed timeline of a 2042 completion was “unnecessary and disappointing.”
The group feared that the “prolonged delay” of CSO pollution control would affect the Superfund remediation process. They also asked DEP to commit to more green infrastructure and stormwater capture in their plan.
“These communities have suffered a polluted Newtown Creek for too long,” the group wrote. “We deserve real reduction of CSO and remediation of contaminated sediments in a timely fashion.
“Only when we’ve stopped making matters worse can we truly begin to turn the corner toward restoration,” they added.
To field public comments about their proposed CSO impact plan, the EPA is hosting two public meetings in December.
The meetings will take place on Monday, December 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, and Wednesday, December 11, at 6:30 p.m. at PS 110 in Greenpoint.
Written comments must be postmarked no later than close of business on Monday, December 23. They can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.