Actions to Address New York City Combined Sewer Overflows That Impact Long Island Sound

Location: Queens and Westchester County, New York | Status: Active  

Summary: With today’s technology, raw sewage should no longer be entering rivers, creeks and Long Island Sound. Yet combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, happen in New York City whenever there is significant rain or snowmelt–about 100 times per year. Because sewage treatment plants are overwhelmed by rainwater mixing with sewage, they collectively discharge 27 billion gallons of untreated or undertreated sewage into New York City waters. Raw sewage contains disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, and solids that don’t belong in our water. They can also contain toxins and heavy metals. This makes the waters unsafe for boating, swimming, and other recreational uses.

With our allies the SWIM Coalition, NRDC, and Riverkeeper, Save the Sound has been working to require New York City to meaningfully reduce the amount of raw and undertreated sewage dumped each year into NYC waterways. Under the Clean Water Act, CSOs must be addressed through Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) that create enforceable requirements to reduce the discharges over time. The New York City LTCPs were proposed over the last several years, yet they don’t do enough to meaningfully protect human health and aquatic life. In particular, they rely heavily on treatment with chlorine, rather than reduction in sewage overflows, which only partially treats the sewage and fails to protect water quality.

One potential solution we are advocating is to convert the closed Rikers Island into a sewage treatment plant that would consolidate the four Upper East River treatment plants—Hunt’s Point, Wards Island, Bowery Bay, and Tallman Island—into a state-of-the-art facility. Known as Renewable Rikers, this would be the best-case long-term scenario. Pursuant to New York City Local Law 31, the city is performing a feasibility study of this option, which is projected to be completed in October 2023. While this is the most promising option, it is far from assured. We must continue to advocate for the problem to be addressed.

Waterbody Gallons of Sewage Discharged per Year City’s Proposed Reduction/Treatment Status/Next Steps
Alley Creek 78 Million No reduction in sewage discharges and partial treatment with chlorine Advocate in agencies and courts for discharges to be decreased to levels that will ultimately protect public health.
Bronx River 455 Million No reduction in sewage discharges and partial treatment with chlorine Advocate in agencies and courts for discharges to be decreased to levels that will ultimately protect public health.
East River/Western Long Island Sound (Citywide LTCP) 5,130 Million Reduction by 87 Million or 1.7% Filed comments requesting further reductions. State has ordered NYC to revise plans to address some of these points.
Flushing Creek/Flushing Bay 2,701 Million Reduction by 775 Million or 28.7% and partial treatment with chlorine Advocate in agencies and courts for discharges to be decreased to levels that will ultimately protect public health.
Hutchinson River 323 Million No reduction in sewage discharges and partial treatment with chlorine Advocate in agencies and courts for discharges to be decreased to levels that will ultimately protect public health.
Westchester Creek 289 Million No reduction in sewage discharges and partial treatment with chlorine Advocate in agencies and courts for discharges to be decreased to levels that will ultimately protect public health.

Latest step: Filed formal comments in permit proceedings in February 2022 urging DEC and EPA to require better Long Term Control Plans and compliance with Water Quality Standards. The Renewable Rikers Act was passed by the NY State legislature in Februrary 2021, requiring NYC to establish a process to transfer the island and to assess its capacity for wastewater processing.

Next step: We are awaiting the agencies’ response in the permit proceedings, which should be in summer 2022. We will also continue advocacy with Renewable Rikers for a state-of-the-art consolidated sewage treatment plant on the site of the closed Rikers Island prison complex, which will help restore the East River and the Narrows of Long Island Sound.

Further reading:

Action opportunities:

Page last updated: July 20, 2022


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