BY KULSOOM KHAN
Nestled in the heart of Flushing and a place frequently visited by fishers and boaters is Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek. Despite the bay’s sparkling blue waters that can be seen from the nearby boardwalk and its many visitors, ongoing pollution has become a source of concern for local environmental activists and community members alike.
The Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 requires that all waters be safe for fishing and swimming. In 2012, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection entered into a consent order with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce combined sewer overflow from entering local water bodies, which includes both Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek, which runs between Downtown Flushing and Willets Point and into Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
As part of the consent order, DEP must develop 11 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO’s) and Long Term Control Plans (LTCPS). Within the next two months, the city and the state are expected to enter into an agreement to lock in infrastructure spending for the next 25 years for the purpose of combined sewage.
“The scale of this problem is huge and in some cases, it’s indescribably huge,” said Sean Dixon, a representative from Riverkeeper, an environmental neighborhood watch program and a citizen’s patrol whose mission is to protect the nation’s waters. Findings and research conducted by RIverkeeper indicate that at least 1.5 billion gallons of combined sewage is discharged into Flushing’s waterways.
“We don’t want that to continue for 25 more years,” Dixon said. “We don’t want to start cleaning up the water quality a decade from now-two decades from now.”
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) has also been an active advocate for the cleaning of the bay and the creek, and has been in communication with other city officials regarding the matter.
“The city must make a long-term commitment to cleaning up the Flushing Creek so that raw sewage isn’t constantly dumped into the public waterways every time it rains,” he said.
To combat the issue of CSO’s the DEP is considering chlorination as an option, which is the process of adding chlorine to water to disinfect. However, some environmental groups are opposed to the ideas on the grounds that it will cause more environmental and health hazards to the public since it has been linked to several types of cancers.
“It’s absolutely the wrong way to go,” said Alex Rosa, a project consultant to Friends of Flushing Creek. “You can’t throw perfume on poop and expect it to resolve the situation.”
She also said that chlorination will damage the ecosystem. Even though chlorine kills bacteria that can cause disease in humans, it can kill fish as well.
“You are creating additional environmental loads on the creek that will create a whirlwind of additional impacts. There’s not one environmental group I know of that supports disinfection.”
A DEP spokesperson said in a statement that “The department is currently evaluating a number of different options to further reduce pollution in Flushing Bay and it is anticipated that a plan will be presented to the community later this year.”
Another issue of contention is proposed development near the waterfront in Flushing West. According to the Flushing West Neighborhood Planning Study released by the Department of City Planning, the construction of both residential and commercial buildings are planned for the area.
“Stormwater management from these waterfront areas will improve with new development, thanks to stormwater rules in the building code, but the developments will add thousands of gallons of wastewater daily to an already overburdened sewer system”, said Korin Tangtrakul of Guardians of Flushing Bay. “That means thousands of gallons of additional combined sewer overflow with significant rainfall events, which will only increase with climate change”.
The City Council is expected to vote on the Flushing West redevelopment in fall/winter 2016.