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Sign of the Times – My Neighborhood Combined Sewer Overflows

2011 April 18

By Sophia Kelley

I wasn’t thinking about sewer systems while I plodded painfully on one of my infrequent “runs” through the neighborhood. I jogged down by the little postage-stamp-sized park just to divert my thoughts from my gasping lungs and aching legs. (The “park” I’m referring to is basically a cul-de-sac at the end of Grand Street that leads directly to the East River. It is populated with a couple of benches and a little path.) Usually what catches the eye from any river spot in this area of Brooklyn is the view of the Manhattan skyline, but this time I noticed an enormous sign instead. The official city sign warns visitors of a “wet weather discharge point.” Unfortunately, I know what this means in plain English. Below the small cluster of benches, there must be a location where raw sewage occasionally flows into the East River. Yes, it still happens. Especially in the northeast, where combined sewer systems are the norm, major rainfall or snow melt can cause overflows. Before coming to EPA, I hadn’t realized how common such events could be. Running home I passed a half dozen high-rise residential buildings and wondered how many of the apartment dwellers know what happens to the river below them on a rainy day.

About the author: Sophia Kelley is a public affairs specialist in New York City. She has been working and writing for EPA since 2009.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Daryl Mitchell, PE permalink
    April 19, 2011

    I feel (rather know) your pain Ms. Sophia… I’ve recently retired practicing civil engineering; having a ton of experience in design & construction of wastewater treatment facilities… Your personal experiences, unlike most of our general population, have clearly made you aware that ‘we’ have a very serious problem on our hands w.r.t. the ‘handling & management’ of the waste ‘our neighbors’ generate & its impact on our environment; and, potentially our health & well-being… I hope you are also aware that there are some very dedicated Engineering & Construction Professionals that are hard at work each day trying to address the growing problem of public-waste containment and treatment. I hope you support the development & modernization of new civil works facilities in & beyond your community that are very much needed to address the growing problem of public-waste.

    Happy healthy running!

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    April 19, 2011

    Healthy Inside – Fresh Outside.

    Human appreciation to the drainage of the water in my country are worst and different. Most of place have damaged and also most of wet infrastructures,too. So, if we have believed, environmentalism can make them healthy inside and fresh outside….

  3. Alexander permalink
    April 19, 2011

    The modern life gives us the public well-being and the misfortune. But the misfortune it gives more I think.

  4. Sophia permalink
    April 19, 2011

    Thank you Daryl! I am grateful for the dedicated engineering and construction professionals and definitely support the modernization of new civil works facilities. I also think that green infrastructure strategies such as rain gardens and permeable pavements should be incorporated in urban planning to reduce stormwater runoff.

  5. Michael permalink
    April 20, 2011

    Thank you sophia for this blog post. The life we live is all about succeeding as well as failing. I have experienced a lot of misfortune in life than I can imagine but I don’t count it as anything. Let’s keep our minds open to more development that nature brings.

    Thank you.

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