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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Brooklyn, New York, USA

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Brooklyn, New York, USA
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Registered: June 2013
City/Town/Province: Brooklyn
Posts: 1
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Did you know that there has been a 29% increase of US coastal beach closure from 2009? That’s the second highest in 21 years of their report history! Did you also know that nearly 63% of beach water contamination that led to those closures was because of storm water runoff pollution? When it rains, water flows over impervious surfaces and accumulates these pollutants before washing them into the drainage system. NYC has a combined sewer system in which the stormwater is mixed with raw sewage. After rainfall, the capacity of the sewer system is not ample enough to bear the excess amount of water and therefore, deposits this mixture into nearby waterways during overflows. However, many other cities have a separated sewer system. In this system, there is a separate pipe for the raw sewage and stormwater. Therefore, after rainfall, the raw sewage is not mixed with the water and is not deposited into our waterways. This mixture of storm water and raw sewage is known as combined sewage overflow.

In the 490 NYC harbor combined sewage overflow site, the amount of raw sewage and polluted storm water discharge reaches a monstrous 27 billion gallons every year! That means that even a measly one inch can completely disrupt our sewage systems. This extraordinary amount of pollution causes great damage to the environment and to human health. Common human diseases that arise from pathogens are gastrointestinal problems, ENT problems, infections and skin rashes. The toxic sediments are a reservoir for bacteria and a source of bioaccumulative chemicals that can concentrate in the fatty tissues of fish. Combined Sewage Overflows also cause an increase in floatable debris in the waterways and beaches of the New York/New Jersey Complex. It also imposes economic costs on the city and its residents in tens of billions of dollars annually in the US, depletes tourism revenue and depresses the value of real estate. This results in financial burdens for communities due to the expenses of cleanup, emergency repairs and medical treatment.

On the basis of my background research, I decided to further examine this issue by conducting my own research in the form of experiments, content analysis and surveys. In the content analysis, I compared 78 samples collected by the Riverkeeper organization over a 3 month period from May to July. I noticed that as the amount of rainfall decreases, the percentage of unacceptable samples also decreases. Hence, there is a positive correlation between the amount of rainfall and the percentage of bacterial concentration. The rainfall overburdens the sewer system and causes it to discharge a pathogenic mixture of raw sewage and polluted stormwater in our beaches. Furthermore, I compared the bacterial counts of two major locations with statistics were taken from the Riverkeeper organization. At the West Bank North of Congress, the bacterial count is 17,329 cells per 100 ml while at the NY Harbor, at the entrance of the Gowanus Canal, the bacterial count was 1,046 cells per 100 ml. This is extremely high when compared to the standard bacterial count of 61 cells per 100 ml.

I conducted my own experiments to obtain a fuller picture of the water conditions at local beaches and tests have been conducted for ion concentrations such as iron, ammonia, copper, chromium and chlorine. The turbidity, alkalinity, hardness, pH and oxygen concentration of the water samples were also tested with water samples I had obtained from Kingsborough Beach and Manhattan Beach. I found low concentration of all ions and all other factors tested. Kingsborough Beach and Manhattan Beach had similar results but Kingsborough Beach had higher concentrations of iron and ammonia. The oxygen concentrations of both beaches were in the average to low range with the pH ranging from 7 to 8 as slightly basic. The experimental tests show that the ion concentration and turbidity was too high, indicating signs of pollution from industrialization and combined sewage overflows. Also, the dissolved oxygen concentration was too low, which indicates high levels of bacteria.

In addition to the experiments, I handed out 200 surveys at the Kings Plaza Mall to determine public awareness. The surveys were voluntary and personal information was kept confidential. I found that 93.5% people were not aware of the bacterial levels in Brooklyn Beaches. 50.5% of the people considered the water quality of Brooklyn beaches to be poor. To test whether people were aware of storm water pollution, individuals were asked to define storm water. Only 15.6% of individuals were able to fully comprehend the meaning of stormwater. 67.8% of surveyors said that they were not aware that it was illegal to have charity, parking lot carwashes if the water goes down storm drains. When people were asked whether they knew where the nearest storm drain was in their neighborhood, 65.5% did not know while 14% of the people surveyed did not know what a storm drain was. When people were asked whether they knew if it was illegal to dispose oil, paint, and detergents in storm drains and gutters, nearly 25% of the people surveyed said that it was legal, while 15% of the people surveyed did not know. These statistics delineate the narrow understanding of the public regarding storm water and its effect in urban landscapes.

After my background research and my extensive personal research, I came up with a 3 point plan which consisted of a raingarden, an awareness campaigns and the installation of a green rooftop. The implementation of raingardens was recommended at sites with high stormwater runoff pollution. Raingardens capture the excessive stormwater runoff and filter the water before it enters the drainage system. The excessive water is then recycled back into the environment by evapotranspiration. Raingardens are essential to removing pollution, preventing erosion and reducing the amount of combined sewage overflow. My school is situated at a site with high stormwater runoff pollution as many sidewalks harbor huge amounts of stagnant rainwater. As a result, I have implemented a raingarden in my school after receiving approval from our school principal. I held meetings with the custodial staff and initiated the construction of the raingarden with funds obtained through bake sales. Feasible plants were brought and equipment was donated by the custodial staff. The greatest benefit of this raingarden is that it can reduce the combined sewage overflow in our area by 14, 800 gallons every year!!

A green rooftop is one recommendation that utilizes billions of square feet of impervious surfaces by placing vegetation at the rooftops of buildings. This feasible solution can cut down on energy consumption. It can also be implemented as a rooftop farm, which grows crops that can be donated to the hungry or sold in order to raise revenue for the implementation of future green infrastructure. I have sent a proposal to my school principal regarding the implementation of a green rooftop at our school. The labor will be provided by volunteers and the plant that we will use is sedum. Sedum is highly absorptive and requires minimal maintenance. I mapped out how our school will look like after the implementation of a green roof and I found out that it can reduce the energy consumption of my school building and help my school save $200,000 from energy savings over its lifetime. It can also decrease CSOs by 12,000 gallons. I mapped out the areas in Brooklyn with high stormwater runoff pollution and I sent petitions to 20 people in those areas to initiate their own green roofs. The combined effect of only 20 green rooftops can reduce the combined sewage overflow by 240,000 gallons every year!

According to my interview of Roland Pentilla, a principal civil engineer of stormwater management at the city of Albuquerque, this issue should be solved “by making each citizen aware of the pollution threat from uncontrolled runoff.” He remarked that “education about the threat needs to be more widespread." To increase public awareness I handed out brochures and set up posters to raise awareness of the pollution caused by daily human activities and its detrimental affect to our beach water and the aquatic life. Tips on how individuals can help contribute to improving water quality by adopting certain changes such as properly disposing of motor oil, not washing their car if near a storm drain, not to dispose oil, paint, and detergents in storm drains and the usage of household chemicals were included. I also carried out awareness campaigns in which I worked in collaboration with the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to provide visual demonstrations to the public. This campaign helped promote the awareness of this issue, teach the youth feasible solutions to this problem and endorse green infrastructure in the future. I conducted water tests of samples from the Hudson river and explained the results to the public at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum during Fleet Week. This provided the public with an opportunity to conduct actual water tests and understand the impact of human activities on our coasts. I spread my knowledge regarding this issue to the rest of the public by conducting educational seminars at schools near the Bay area. I gave a thorough explanation of my research and encouraged students to actively take part in keeping our coasts clean by using green solutions. These campaigns were made possible through the hard work and dedication of student volunteers and friends.

According to Roland Pentilla, “Water is life and there is no subject more important than the protection of the Earth’s water. Water is the essence of life and the safety of our beaches is basically our safety." Urban stormwater runoff pollution is a monumental issue and with feasible implementations and a positive attitude, we can keep NYC coasts clean by going green.
Date: June 15, 2013 Views: 5143 File size: 18.4kb, 3666.6kb : 3648 x 2432
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 2
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 & 19
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