Sewage Frequently Fouls Hudson River, Report Says

August 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

The study, issued by the environmental group Riverkeeper, underscores how a big sewage discharge in July, caused by a fire at a treatment plant in Manhattan, was part of a persistent and far more widespread sewage problem along the 155-mile river.

Despite improvements in water quality since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the group said, 21 percent of its water samples had unacceptable levels of bacteria because of problems like discharges from aging or failing sewage treatment plants, overflows caused by rain and poor maintenance of septic systems.

“More and more people are fishing, swimming and boating in the Hudson,” Riverkeeper’s president, Paul Gallay, said in an interview. “If we fail to take care of the river, we lose the gains we’ve made and the economic benefits that go with them.”

The study, based on more than 2,000 water samples collected from May through October at 75 sites between Albany and New York City from 2006 to 2010, offers some surprises. Some of the worst contamination, it turns out, comes from tributaries like streams and creeks that flow into the Hudson.

The report says further research is needed to pinpoint the cause of the pollution in the tributaries, but it suggests some possibilities like leaking septic systems that contaminate groundwater, illegal sewage hookups and agricultural runoff.

With more than eight million residents, New York City nonetheless has better water quality in its part of the Hudson than the Albany region, home to barely one million people, the study also concludes. One reason is that sewage in Albany enters a narrower and shallower stretch of the river, without the dilution benefits of New York City’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Another reason, the report says, is that Albany’s treatment plants do not disinfect sewage — although there is a plan to start doing so by 2013 — leaving that section of the Hudson “chronically sewage-laden.”

The bright picture in New York City dims during rainstorms, however, when treatment plants cannot handle the volume, and a mix of sewage and storm water flows into the river. Over all, unacceptable samples increase more than threefold — to 32 percent from 9 percent — in wet weather versus dry weather, the report said.

Riverkeeper’s testing program, a collaboration with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Queens College at the City University of New York, measures levels of the bacterium enterococcus, which lives in the intestines of humans and some animals. The group said that only New York City and 4 of 10 counties along the river currently perform water quality tests and that none report the findings in a timely fashion.

Riverkeeper officials are recommending weekly water quality testing and public notification on results, more spending on wastewater infrastructure, better enforcement of clean-water laws and new rules like one requiring the inspection and maintenance of private septic systems.

Carter Strickland, a deputy commissioner with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, said on Tuesday that the city had spent nearly $2 billion since the 1990s addressing the problem of combined sewer overflows, which involve systems that collect both storm water runoff and sanitary sewage in the same pipe. He said the solutions included separating the sewage and storm water runoff in some areas and building storage tanks in others so that overflows can be retained and treated.

The Bloomberg administration is also encouraging investment in environmentally friendly infrastructure, like roofs with plantings and porous pavement for parking lots, to capture and retain storm water before it reaches the sewer system and overloads it, Mr. Strickland said.

In the meantime, he said, his department is working toward releasing the results of its water quality tests to the public as soon as they become available.

Squaxin Island Tribe Further Testing Mushrooms as Water Quality Solution

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Targeted News Service

January 5, 2011

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission issued the following news release:

Mushrooms might help treat one of the most widespread causes of water pollution — fecal bacteria from human and livestock waste in stormwater runoff. And if it works, the system can be used to protect the rich shellfish heritage of Puget Sound.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is teaming up with Mason Conservation District and Fungi Perfecti to test how well the vegetative growth (mycelia) of fungi filters fecal coliform bacteria out of running water.

“Several field studies have demonstrated that mushroom mycelia can capture and remove bacteria in running water,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe worked with Battelle Labratories on a large treatment system and found that fungi mycelia can reduce bacteria concentrations. We’re trying to figure out just how well it works on a smaller scale.”

The tribe will put polluted water at Mason County’s Allyn wastewater treatment plant through a series of tests, and track how well the water cleans up over time. If the mushroom technique works on this small scale, it might become a very cost-effective method for removing fecal coliform from running water.

The theory is that mycelia act as biological filters. As they grow, they capture and consume bacteria from contaminated water eliminating them from the environment.

Polluted upland runoff washing into Puget Sound each winter is a common cause for closing shellfish harvest. “Shellfish growers fear this yearly cycle of pollution,” Konovsky said. “We need innovative and cost effective solutions to solve the problem.”

“Our benchmark for cleaning up Puget Sound is whether we can eat its shellfish and harvest healthy populations of salmon,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “Mushrooms might be able to help us do that. They could be another valuable weapon in our fight to clean up Puget Sound.

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