Sign of the Times – My Neighborhood Combined Sewer Overflows

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.

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