Tell the Mayor: Get Raw Sewage Out of NYC Waterways!

Sewer overflow into Newtown Creek, NYC.

Photo courtesy of Riverkeeper

If you live in New York City and love clean water, now is a great time to speak out. And there are ready-made opportunities for you to do it—both online and in person.

Mayor de Blasio just earned a second term from the voters. Critical decisions he makes now will determine whether his environmental legacy includes a bright future of safe and healthy waterways for all New Yorkers to enjoy—or, instead, will lock-in for another generation the city’s #1 ranking for the most raw sewage pollution in the country.

Almost every time it rains in New York City, raw sewage, pet waste, trash, and polluted runoff flow into waterways where people swim, fish, row, kayak, and boat. As little as one tenth of an inch of rain will overwhelm the city’s sewers and sewage treatment plants. 

So far this year, raw sewage overflowed somewhere in NYC—usually many “somewheres”—on 1 out of 4 days.

In fact, every year, more than 20 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted runoff bypass the city’s sewage treatment plants and end up in waterways like the Hudson River, East River, Bronx River, Harlem River, Long Island Sound, Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay, Gowanus Canal, and Newtown Creek.

Not only is this gross but it’s also incredibly dangerous, putting those who come into contact with contaminated water at risk of developing intestinal illnesses, rashes, and infections.

The City Department of Environmental Protection’s plans to address this mess, which have been revealed over the last couple of years, are deeply flawed and would continue to allow massive amounts of sewage to flow into waters across the city, for decades to come. They also don't take full advantage of solutions like green infrastructure—including rain gardens, green roofs, and street trees—that improve our neighborhoods and keep our waters clean.

NRDC is working in coalition with dozens of organizations around the city to fight for real solutions that:

  • Dramatically reduce sewage pollution by maximizing the use of green infrastructure and capturing remaining overflows for full treatment;
  • Fully meet federal health standards;
  • Don’t simply put a band-aid on the problem by dumping chlorine into sewers or diverting sewage from one place to another;
  • Ensure that all communities—especially disadvantaged communities that are too often left behind—benefit from clean water investments; and
  • Are put into place as soon as possible to protect the public health. 

NRDC brings the power of law and science together to fight for clean water in New York City. This summer, for example, we hauled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into court, calling on a federal judge to ensure that New York City’s sewage cleanup plans are held to science-based standards that protect human health.

But even stronger than legal briefs is the power of the people. It's time for all New Yorkers to let your elected officials know that you demand better. 

Here’s how you can help now:

  • Click here to send a message to Mayor de Blasio and other key city and state officials, telling them to keep raw sewage out of NYC’s waterways.
  • Tell your family and friends to send a message, too: Click here to tweet a link to our action alert, and here to share on Facebook.
  • On the evening of Wednesday, November 15, join NRDC and our partners at an official public meeting on the City's sewage plans. Come to show your support, and to tell City officials they need to get the job done. It’s just three short stops from Grand Central on the subway. Click here for details and to RSVP.
  • Get educated and stay involved. Check out the latest updates shared by our coalition, and sign up here for regular updates in your inbox. You can also subscribe to receive alerts when sewer overflows happen.

About the Authors

Larry Levine

Senior Attorney, Water program

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