The Department of Environmental Protection is implementing a new program to track sewer and stormwater overflow into the city’s waterways.
A system of remote sensors will be installed to track sewer overflows at five different locations in the city, including one at Hunter’s Point in Long Island City. The sensors are part of a trial run to see if sewage flow into major waterways can be tracked accurately in real time.
In a statement issued to the press, DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said the project is crucial to combat the issue of sewage overflow in the city and the ecological damage it causes.
“We need better data so we can accurately measure when sewer overflows happen in real time,” Strickland said. “These new sensors should give us that critical information so that we can better quantify the environmental impact and inform the public as soon as they happen.”
The move comes as activity along the city’s waterfronts, including that of Long Island City, has increased over the past few years. However, the issue of stormwater overflow has been a problem for the city for over a century.
The issue has been the target of environmental agencies in recent years. In October, the DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation introduced a series of dredging and infrastructure projects to combat storm overflow. Those projects would overhaul sewage release systems in different parts of the city — including, in Queens, Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay, Alley Creek and Newtown Creek.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has noted that the DEC’s plan is similar to ones implemented in other cities with positive results.
If it is successful, the new sensor program could do more to help the city bring sewage overflow under control.
The city already has a sensor system of 108 units in place to detect water level elevation near sewage overflow locations, but those sensors do not distinguish sewage overflow from tides, which also cause water levels to rise. The sensors are also unable to detect the amount of sewage dumped into bodies of water as a result of overflow.
Dan Hendrick of the New York League of Conservation Voters spoke in support of the new plan, noting that sewage and stormwater overflow constitute the main problem with water quality in the city’s waterways.
“The new sensors will definitely give the city a sense of where the real trouble spots are in regards to sewage overflow,” Hendrick said. “They will help pinpoint troublesome areas and assess what the overall effects are.”
The city’s sewer system empties stormwater and sewage into waterways from 423 outflow locations. This happens when the city’s sewer system overflows during stormy weather.
The sensors are projected to be installed and to start transmitting data by the end of 2012. If the program succeeds, the DEP said, it will install sensors in the upper East River and in Jamaica Bay.
“First, we’d have to analyze the accuracy of the data collected by the sensors we’ve installed,” said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the DEP. “If the data is accurate, we can then use it to inform the public about stormwater overflow in the city’s waterways.”
“People can then use that information to make the best decision as to whether or not to use the city’s rivers and waterways for recreation,” Sklerov said.