Bronx River

Bronx River Greenway Groundbreaking

By Abu Moulta-Ali

“A Tree Grows, A River Flows”

Descending the stairs at the West Farms Sq/E. Tremont Ave stop on the 2 train, I thought I had gotten off at the wrong stop. I was told this was the closest stop to Starlight Park where a groundbreaking event was being held to celebrate a multi-million dollar project to restore the Bronx River. I asked a school crossing guard for directions to Starlight Park but she looked at me like I was crazy, so I asked her “Do you know how I can get to the Bronx River?” She said, “There’s no river around here, but behind the school there’s a stream.” While she didn’t know it, that stream was really a tributary of the Bronx River.

A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but a river flows in the Bronx. The Bronx River is New York City’s only freshwater river.  The Bronx River, once a community amenity and center for recreation, quickly became an open water sewer for industrial and residential wastes as New York City’s population exploded during the 19th and 20th centuries. But, in 1974, a band of community activists formed Bronx River Restoration and began the arduous process of cleaning up and restoring the river. Once a dumping ground for abandoned cars, the Bronx River now attracts 5,000 recreational paddlers and rowers each year and serves as an outdoor laboratory to educate local students and the public about the river, and train volunteers to monitor the river’s conditions.

On October 6, 2016, with over $40 million in planning and building, and significant coordination of federal, state, and city agencies under the Urban Water Federal Partnership, about 75 community members, advocates and elected officials came out to celebrate the groundbreaking of Phase 2 of the Bronx River Greenway. Phase 2 will provide pedestrian access from Starlight Park to Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx. A pedestrian bridge will be built over the Amtrak Acela line (at 172nd Street and Bronx Avenue) which will provide access to nine acres of improved parkland, as well as the river itself. This will mark the completion of a one-mile bike and pedestrian link in a trail system that will run the full 23 miles of the river from Westchester County to Hunts Point.

After the groundbreaking while walking back to the train station, I ran into the same crossing guard. She asked if I found the “river” (New Yorkers like me can spot sarcasm a mile away).  When I showed her a video of the groundbreaking event I captured on my cell phone, her mouth fell open. In the video you can see kids from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School canoeing down the river collecting water samples, hundreds of bunker fish swimming, and joggers running along the newly built Bronx River National Water Trail.

She said she lived only 10 blocks from Starlight Park but had never been there. She thanked me and said she would check it out when she got off work. Now if we can spread the word to the other 400,000 South Bronx residents who live, work, and play within walking distance of the river, the Bronx River could be the 2nd biggest attraction in the Bronx. Sorry…nothing will ever top the House that Ruth Built.

Special thanks to NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver,Congressman Jose Serrano, Lisa Pelstring from the US Department of Interior who leads the Urban Water Federal Partnership, Amtrak, Bronx River Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality.

About the author: Abu Moulta-Ali is an Environmental Scientist in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds where he works on wetland regulations. When he’s not at work he can be found mountain biking, snowboarding, and camping with his wife and two daughters.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Sea Farming Shellfish and Seaweed in Long Island Sound

Local students, through a program with Rocking the Boat a nonprofit community development organization, helping to set up the shellfish and seaweed raft off of Hunts Point in the Bronx.

By Mark Tedesco

The theory behind the martial art of Jiu Jitsu is to use an attacker’s force against him or herself.   What if the same theory can be applied to pollutants that degrade coastal water quality?  An innovative project just offshore of where the Bronx River empties into western Long Island Sound is doing just that.

Shellfish and seaweed suspension raft off the Bronx River

There on a raft anchored about 20 meters offshore, not far from the Hunts Point market, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Connecticut, and Purchase College are studying a pilot sea farm of shellfish and seaweed.  Students from the South Bronx community are maintaining the sea farm through involvement of Rocking the Boat, a nonprofit community development organization.  The seaweed and shellfish (ribbed mussels) grow by absorbing and filtering nutrients from the water.  When harvested, the nutrients they contain are taken out of the water.  As a result, sea farming of shellfish and seaweed could be a powerful tool in cleaning up nutrient-enriched waters.

While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for the growth of plants and animals, in excess they can overwhelm coastal waters, resulting in poor visibility, low oxygen levels, and loss of healthy wetlands and sea grasses. Through the Long Island Sound Study, EPA and the states of New York and Connecticut are taking action to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound by reducing the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound by 60 percent, mainly by upgrading wastewater treatment plants and controlling fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff. Enhancing sea farming of shellfish and seaweeds in Long Island Sound can complement nutrient control strategies as part of a comprehensive clean water strategy.  The pilot study is evaluating a range of potential markets for the harvest, from seafood for human consumption to agricultural feeds, from biofuels to pharmaceutical products.

The project has caught the interest of the CNN and the New York Times.  If successful, the expansion of sea farming of shellfish and seaweed can mean more jobs, cleaner water, and local quality products.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator,  in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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New Life for the Bronx and Harlem Rivers

By Cyndy Kopitsky

EPA and the U.S. Department of the Interior have identified the Bronx and the Harlem Rivers as two priority areas in New York. As a result, exciting things are happening! But, first a little geography lesson.

The Bronx River, the only fresh water in New York City, is approximately 24 miles long and flows through southeast New York State.  The Harlem River is a navigable tidal strait in New York City that flows eight miles between the Hudson River and the East River.  The Harlem River is spanned by seven swing bridges, three lift bridges and four arch bridges.  The Harlem River forms a part of the Hudson estuary system, serving as a narrow strait that divides the island of Manhattan from the Bronx.

Three of the bridges that cross the Harlem River are: the High Bridge (a now-closed pedestrian bridge); the Alexander Hamilton Bridge (part of Interstate 95); and the Washington Bridge. In this photo, looking north, the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is on the left and the Bronx is on the right.

Here’s where the fun comes in – in an effort to improve water quality, make public access safe and restore the watersheds and ecosystems, federal and local partners have initiated a number of projects.  I am always inspired to see when there is success in our “urban” community activities that manage to span from the Long Island Sound to the Delaware Estuary and across the east coast to the Caribbean, all contributing to the partnership.

One is the Bronx Youth Urban Forestry Empowerment program for low-income and minority youth which was created in partnership by “Trees of NY” and the USDA Forest Service. This project provides underserved youth from the Bronx sustained, hands-on education in tree care, tree identification, tree pit gardening, tree inventory and park land habitat restoration, outdoor recreational activities and two service learning projects.

The oyster population, once plentiful, has suffered a major decline due to pollution.  Improvement has been seen in the last 10 years although they remain unsafe to eat. Oysters play a major role in filtering and help to create a better habitat.  Many federal and local agencies are working in partnership to create an oyster reef, a better place for oysters to live.  I have a special interest in this type of project and I hope to be able to visit the area, not far from my home town.

The Park Service, the Harlem River Working Group and city and state agencies are working to develop a greenway along the Bronx side of the Harlem River and are planning to increase access which is currently limited along both rivers.

The EPA NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program is funding an effort to design plans for passage of migratory fish at two Bronx River dams and The Harlem River Working Group is planning a big event at Roberto Clemente State Park (RCSP) October 15th – 20th.  The main goal is to highlight the fact the RCSP is the ONLY point on the Bronx side of the Harlem River that has the immediate potential to provide boating access to the river.  The National Park Service will be providing a small amount of funding to help with programming the event and the State is on board to provide logistical support and host the event. The plan is to get 500 to 600 Bronx students out on the river Monday through Friday and then hold a community-wide celebration that Saturday.  Several of us have been invited to talk with the Park Service about ways to assure a large turn-out at this upcoming event.

All in all, lots of activity in support of these two important urban waterways. For more information, visit www.urbanwaters.gov.

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky is the Urban Waters Program Coordinator out of EPA’s office in Manhattan. In this capacity Cyndy works closely with the EPA Region 2 staff and managers to engage them in the Urban Water Program activities which include a grant program and the pilot projects. The pilot projects are often cooperative efforts with other federal agencies. Cyndy is a far commuter and resident of Cape May County in the southern most point of New Jersey. With her background in advertising and environmental education, working with communities for Cyndy is a “natural fit.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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