Hallets Cove Still Needs Help

Film on the water at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard

Film on the water at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard

HarborLAB is sad to relay the news from CUNY LaGuardia Community College that bacteria counts remain elevated days after the New York City Housing Authority capped open drains that allow sewage to discharge from the Astoria Houses into Hallets Cove. As we noted earlier, there’s no “silver bullet” to raising water quality. Dogs and birds frequently defecate on the beach. HarborLAB photographed paw prints and birds yesterday afternoon. As the NYC Department of Environmental Protection noted, wild birds can’t be effectively managed.

Most parts of the estuary suffer fecal bacteria when rain causes combined sewer channels to overflow. Hallets Cove is blighted even in dry weather. Here’s this month’s observed rainfall.

We as a community must sample the water and sand further (HarborLAB will do this in the colder months), work with NYCDEP and CUNY LaGuardia Community College for regular testing, and institute both basic and innovative mitigation measures. HarborLAB need volunteer samplers to keep a neighborhood watch on Hallets Cove water quality. Please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “Hallets Cove.”

Here are questions HarborLAB posed to scientists with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and CUNY in an email conversation that included Rob Buchanan of the NYC Water Trail Association, which coordinates water sampling throughout the harbor:

1) Could such a prolonged exposure (referring to the NYCHA discharge) translate to a slower decline?
2) Could sand culturing of the bacteria cause it to persist?
3) How might activated effective microorganisms be used to mitigate this situation? Does the DEP have a research program or field implementation in place? Partners from the Permaculture movement are interested in contributing to such an effort.
4) How might we reduce dog defecation on the beach?

As measured by Dr. Sarah Durand’s lab at LaGuardia Community College, indicator bacteria counts were again in the “red zone” with183-197 CFU (colony forming units) per 100 ml of water. Observing over 104 enterococci per 100 ml in salt water indicates that an area is unacceptable for swimming, according the the US Environmental Protection Agency. From the EPA website:

What levels of indicator bacteria are considered acceptable?

Based on studies conducted in the 1980s, EPA has determined that a geometric mean (a measure of an overall average) in samples from recreational waters of less than 126 E. coli per 100 milliliters (ml) of fresh water or 35 enterococci per 100 ml of salt water is acceptable for protection of swimming. The geometric mean should be calculated from more than five samples within the previous 30 days. If a single sample exceeds 235 E. coli per 100 ml in freshwater and 104 enterococci per 100 ml in salt water, EPA recommends that the beach be closed, or posted, for swimming until levels are lower. (Some states, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, recommend that advisories be posted at more protective levels of indicator bacteria.) Because elevated fecal indicator bacteria are often associated with storm water runoff, some agencies post beaches preemptively if rainfall exceeds a set amount, based on site-specific studies.

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Contaminated samples fluoresce under UV light due to a chemical reaction between bacterial excretions and a laboratory agent. Photo by Dr. Sarah Durand, PhD, CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

There are no universal health standards for water quality restrictions on such high-water contact activities as introductory sit-on-top kayaking. Even without falling in, children and adults engage in splashing and have frequent hand-to-mouth and hand-to-eye transference of water. Children and adults do fall in (this is normal, but shouldn’t be risked in fouled water) , and after hours children do wade, swim, make sandcastles at Hallets Cove. It’s reasonable to believe that public boating might encourage children and families to believe the water is acceptable.

Sand is more of a concern than was believed in previous generations. Some useful links:

“Microbial Load from Animal Species at a Recreational Beach”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2771205/

“Fecal Bacteria May Be Hiding in Beach Sand”

http://www.care2.com/causes/fecal-bacteria-may-be-hiding-in-beach-sand.html

“Bacteria Swarm Keeps Oceanfront Revelers Out of Water”

http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/oceanfront-swimming-advisory-completely-lifted

paws

gulls

 

NYCDEP Discovers a Major Source of Hallets Cove Bacteria!

HarborLAB brought Hunters Point Community Middle School teachers to meet with Socrates Sculpture Park, which administers Hallets Cove under an agreement with NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. HarborLAB also delivered oysters to the neighborhood for the Billion Oyster Project.

HarborLAB brought Hunters Point Community Middle School teachers by kayak to meet with Socrates Sculpture Park, which administers Hallets Cove under an agreement with NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. HarborLAB also delivered oysters to the neighborhood for the Billion Oyster Project.

The NYC Department of Environmental Protection has discovered that one of the NYC Housing Authority buildings on Hallets Point has been discharging untreated sewage into Hallets Cove. About 140 people live in each of the 22 buildings of the Astoria Houses.

The discharge was revealed when the DEP put blue dye into the system and observed the dye entering the cove, a method for which HarborLAB has long lobbied publicly and in private meetings with the NYCDEP. We’ve been the leader among boating groups in lobbying for water quality improvement at Hallets Cove and are very grateful for the NYCDEP’s extra efforts, despite many other obligations, which produced this great new progress. We also thank NYCHA managers for requesting additional testing of its systems, which directly led to this new knowledge.

Further testing, as promised by the NYCDEP, must be done. This first clear identification of a contamination source, however, is a great start. HarborLAB looks forward to providing educational and fun programming at Hallets Cove if water quality there vastly improves.

HarborLAB is also grateful to Howard Hemmings through the NYCHA Green and Gardening program, who took our concerns seriously and relayed them through official channels, and to Astoria Houses Residents Association President Claudia Coger, who first informed us of sewage backups and related health concerns there. We also thank Vanessa Jones-Hall,  also an official with the residents association, for being a steady conduit of communication. HarborLAB volunteer and western Queens environmental leader Lynne Serpe introduced HarborLAB to these community partners. We’re also grateful to former NYCDEP Associate Commissioner for Public Affairs Matthew Mahoney, now with United Water, who first suggested dye testing.

Preliminary findings by NYCDEP investigators, at Mr. Mahoney’s request in 2012, were that dog and bird feces might be the culprit (much was seen), as it often is throughout the country. Water tests further from shore, in greater depths, were less worrying. We must still test for non-human sources of contamination.

In early September, HarborLAB stepped up its efforts to address the Hallets Cove issue by pushing for a meeting with the NYCDEP. We wanted to both put Hallets Cove on the front burner and to rebuild some lost public confidence. Responding to information from HarborLAB, NYCDEP also invited the NYC Water Trail Association, which coordinates regional water sampling by volunteers. At the meeting the NYCDEP agreed to do more testing in partnership with HarborLAB (sampling in the off-season of late autumn through early spring), whenever possible including the CUNY students we serve. Interestingly, the NYCDEP agreed to also sample sand, to determine the species of bacteria, and therefore hosts, an even more exciting educational opportunity. Sand has only recently been more adequately recognized as a growth medium for bacteria and a transport mechanism. Results and program details will be released in the spring.

Today, however, a NYCDEP official released this exciting information to HarborLAB:

Erik – On September 22, DEP personnel responded to a request from management to inspect the sanitary drains in the Astoria Houses. They discovered uncapped drains that were allowing sanitary flow from one of the buildings to enter the storm sewer and discharge into the cove. This was confirmed by means of a dye test. They issued a Commissioner’s Order for the condition to be corrected (within 30 days), and a follow-up inspection will be made to confirm that the work has been done or the Houses will be issued a Notice of Violation to be adjudicated before the Environmental Control Board.

Children playing with the sand at Hallets Cove. Public boating may have encouraged a false sense of safety at the cove, where bacteria counts are high. Photo by HarborLAB volunteer Audrey Dimola.

Children playing with the sand at Hallets Cove. Public boating may have encouraged a false sense of safety at the cove, where bacteria counts are high. Photo by HarborLAB volunteer Audrey Dimola.

HarborLAB has for its existence opted to not provide children’s programming at Hallets Cove because intestinal bacteria counts in its near-shore waters were alarmingly high, even in dry weather. Normally such elevations are caused by combined sewer overflows when it’s raining. Runoffs from streets force engineers to open sewer gates, rather than have fouled water back up into neighborhoods, because rain and toilets go into the same pipes and treatment plants.

HarborLAB initiated weekly water sampling at Hallets Cove as part of the NYC Water Trail Association’s “Citizen Science” program, coordinated by Rob Buchanan. Testing was done at The River Project and LaGuardia Community College, and Riverkeeper provided great public outreach. Bacteria counts were so high and sustained that HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard called for children’s programs to be suspended at Hallets Cove until the problem was identified and addressed. That we saw high bacteria counts in dry weather told us that even occasional favorable results from weekly sampling on Thursdays were meaningless as a guarantor of public safety on weekends because without knowing the source (not rain) we couldn’t know when contamination would spike again. Erik also founded the LIC Community Boathouse, which continued with children’s programming at Hallets Cove. Some doubted the reliability of the sampling and redundantly sampled Hallets Cove (we later withdrew from that activity rather than be wasteful or political), but received similar results.

For years, HarborLAB has lobbied for green infrastructure, dye testing, and other innovative measures at Hallets Cove, which should be a safe destination for educational recreation in a habitat restoration. We still believe that Hallets Cove should have the agreed upon extra testing and should be a showcase for green design and clean-tech innovation.

Waterfowl at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard.

Waterfowl at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard.

Neversink Reservoir Fleet Arrives!

Neversink Reservoir Fleet received by Forst Valley YMCA and funded by Catskill Watershed Corporation with support from NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

Neversink Reservoir Fleet received by Frost Valley YMCA and funded by Catskill Watershed Corporation with support from NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

HarborLAB’s fleet for Neversink Reservoir program fleet of ten kayaks (Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandems) and five canoes (Old Town Saranac 160), life vests, and paddles have arrived! Many thanks to the Catskill Watershed Corporation for the grant that purchased these boats and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection for its support of the program! Many thanks to Johnson Outdoors for making this great community amenity affordable!

The Frost Valley YMCA received the boats, for which we’re also grateful. HarborLAB is working to arrange safety training and environmental educational programs with the Frost Valley YMCA.

We need volunteers and sponsors to make the most of this opportunity! Email support@harborlab.org or volunteer@harborlab.org to help, with the subject, “Neversink.” THANKS!

 

Algonquin Tour Shorts, Raw Footage

HarborLAB was privileged to host an Algonquin Tour of the Newtown Creek. Our lecturer was Prof. Evan Pritchard of Marist College, a scholar of Mi’kmaq heritage and founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture. He is the author of several books about the First Nations of North America, especially our region. We were honored to include Dorothty Morehead, Interim Chair of the Newtown Creek Alliance, Matt Malina, Founder of NYCH2O, and urban ecology blogger Patrick Coll among our participants.

This is the first Native American tour of the Newtown Creek, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund site because of the industrial toxins in its sediments. This video was shot by Prof. Scott Sternbach, acclaimed nature photographer, director of CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s photography and video department and Chair of HarborLAB.

These are just shorts taken from our event, and the audio will be enhanced, especially for the beginning section. Full raw footage will be made available to academics and a we’ll release a polished final cut video for the public. Prof.Pritchard offers blessings for the boats by burning sage and discusses diverse topics, including the lands and peoples of the Newtown Creek, how tulip tree canoes (moo xool) were communally shared, and evidence for extensive maritime trade within the Americas before European contact.

We are very grateful to the NYC DEP for its permission to land at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

Watershed Wonder Tours in the News

 

Neversink Reservoir. Catskill Watershed Corp.

A great write up on HarborLAB’s coming “Watershed Wonder Tours,” published
by DNAinfo:

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130711/long-island-city/city-kids-go-straight-source-on-catskills-watershed-tours

THE TRANSPORTATION GRANT APPLICATION IS DUE JULY 15:

http://www.nycwatershed.org/pdfs/BusTourRFP_000.pdf

The NYC DEP recommends that educators, paddling and ecological
organizations, and community groups focus programs on learning about how
forests clean and protect our water when applying for this grant. Keep in
mind that you can also use this grant to visit other reservoirs, though
Neversink is the only one with a free public fleet. We’re dipping a paddle
in the water in 2013 and really splashing down in 2014. One LIC has written
to that they’ve already applied, and another is interested, but this is for
all of NYC (and our country cousins)!  🙂

Neversink Reservoir. Catskill Watershed Corporation.

 

 

The Watershed Experience in Brooklyn Bridge Park

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A few media reps and DEP contracted photographers stopped by the HarborLAB booth. Photo by Manny Steier.

Our city’s drinking water reservoirs are located in regions chockablock with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, and of course paddling. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection, steward of this resource, organized called The Watershed Experience on Saturday in Brooklyn Bridge Park to promote tourism to these attraction just two hours north of NYC. HarborLAB was invited to share the good word about our coming Watershed Wonder Tours.

HarborLAB volunteers Manny Steier and Erik Baard had a great time meeting representatives from the Ashokan Center, DEP natural resources, Frost Valley YMCA, and other potential partners. Getting there and back was half the fun — Manny biked from central Queens and Erik paddled from LIC. On the way down, Erik skirted the margins of the Liberty Challenge race as outriggers rounded a buoy by the Brooklyn Bridge — underestimating the current they were bucking, one crew rubbed shoulders with the buoy!

Wes Miller, Pat Erickson, and Dorothy Morehead were critical in getting the show on the road. One terrific bonus for Manny and Erik was meeting the friendly and capable Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse crew, especially Darren (who came to the rescue with sunblock) and Charlie.

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Kids got a kick out of rolling in the grass in our boat, which is the same model as is destined for the Neversink Reservoir. We also served as referral booth for the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse! Photo by Manny Steier.

A second treat, for Erik was feasting on Amelanchier growing in the park! (Manny doesn’t eat food he’s not authoritatively identified.) Amelanchier look like blueberries but are more closely related to cherries and peaches. The fruit is variable across the species, but the ones in Brooklyn Bridge Park (on the north side of the kayaking embayment, at the entrance to the path leading up stairs) were as sweet as fruit punch. All varieties have small seeds at the center that taste like almonds. In our region — especially the Hudson Valley — the most famous variety is known as shadbush (Amelanchier arborea), because the flowers bloom as shad (a migratory fish that’s an historically important food and still a delicacy) swim back into the estuary on their way to northern spawning grounds. The large bush is also more morbidly known in New England as serviceberry, because its bloom occurs when the ground is thawed enough for burial of the winter’s dead. If you’re from outside of the East Coast, you may have heard of their close cousins, known as Juneberry or Saskatoon on the prairies. Erik plants these small trees through his Gotham Orchards project, and they grow in many soils. Some argue that they are great for waterfronts because of their salt tolerances, but report that they aren’t particularly salt tolerant. We’ll follow the confidence of NYRP that the species is able to survive occasional saline flooding.

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Amelanchier in Brooklyn Bridge Park! Photo by Erik Baard.