State of the Beach/State Reports/NY/Water Quality

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New York Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access64
Water Quality54
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures5 4
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas27
Website5-

Water Quality Monitoring Program

BEACH Act
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. New York was eligible for a $326,000 grant in fiscal year 2016. New York City provides funding for its beach monitoring program to supplement the BEACH Act grant monies that the city receives.

Much of the following discussion is taken from NRDC's report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked New York 20th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 13% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

New York is the only state with both marine and Great Lakes coastlines. There are 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, 231 miles of shorefront on Long Island Sound, 548 miles of Long Island bayfront, and 83 miles of shorefront on islands off the Long Island coast. In addition to these marine coastlines, there are more than 200 miles of freshwater shoreline on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Nearly all of the state's coastal beaches are on Atlantic waters. The coastal beach monitoring program in New York is administered by the New York State Department of Health. The New York City Department of Health posts closings and advisories for beaches in the New York City area. Additionally, beachgoers can learn about advisories and closings in the Great Lakes areas on the BeachCast website.

Water Quality Challenges and Improvements

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the northeastern United States. Killing 159 people and causing an estimated $70 billion in damage in eight states, Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. On October 16, 2013, New York declared a statewide state of emergency due to the storm. Parts of Long Island were evacuated, and there were widespread power outages in Manhattan. Across the mid-Atlantic, floods overwhelmed sewage treatment plants and flushed 11 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage (or was it 10 billion gallons?) into rivers, bays, canals, and city streets, according to a recent report by the research firm Climate Central. For perspective, this volume of waste could cover all of Central Park with a layer of sewage 41 feet high and is more than 50 times the amount of oil spilled BP Deepwater disaster. Approximately 93% of the volume of sewage overflows was from New York (47%) and New Jersey (46%) alone.

Sandy not only caused flooding and sewage overflows but also severely damaged treatment plants and pumping stations. The damaged treatment plants continued to release largely untreated sewage into local waterways for weeks after the storm. For example, nearly 50 million gallons of untreated sewage came from one Yonkers treatment plant during the storm, and another 1.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage flowed from the plant in the four weeks afterward. On Long Island, the Bay Park treatment plant released 100 million gallons of untreated sewage into Hewlett Bay during the 44 hours the plant was offline; it released another 2.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage over the next 44 days, until full operation was restored. Overall, it will cost New York an estimated $2 billion to repair the damage Sandy caused to sewage treatment plants in the state. Local health department jurisdictions and beach operators have been actively engaged in extensive restoration efforts where needed. Under the federal Sandy relief bill, EPA provided grants of $340 million to New York state for improvements to wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

New York City Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Reduction Program and Green Infrastructure

More than 70% of New York City's 7,400 miles of sewers are combined sewers, which carry sanitary sewage and stormwater runoff in the same pipes. When overwhelmed by the volume of wastewater needing treatment during and immediately after storms, combined sewer systems discharge a mixture of rainfall runoff and raw sewage into area waterways (called combined sewer overflows, or CSOs). These CSOs contain fecal material that compromises the water quality in New York Harbor. Reducing the amount of stormwater runoff that reaches sewage treatment plants is one means of reducing the volume and frequency of these overflows and improving water quality. Green infrastructure is a strategy that reduces runoff by mimicking natural conditions that allow rainwater to infiltrate into the soil. Green infrastructure techniques include the use of porous pavement, green roofs, rain gardens, roadside plantings, and rain barrels that stop rain where it falls, either storing it for later beneficial use or letting it filter into the ground naturally.

In March 2012, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and New York State finalized a new consent order governing the city's CSO obligations, which altered pre-existing "gray" infrastructure requirements and added new requirements to implement key aspects of the city's 20-year Green Infrastructure Plan. The order eliminated some planned gray projects and substituted certain others, which are projected to achieve comparable CSO volume reductions on a citywide basis with a net savings of $1.4 billion. Much of these savings will be reinvested to meet the order's new green infrastructure requirements, which include capturing the first inch of runoff from at least 10 percent of the impervious surfaces in city's combined sewer areas. The consent order also defers until 2017 any decisions on two potential CSO detention tunnels, estimated to cost $2 billion, to give the city an opportunity to develop green alternatives that could substitute for, or allow the downsizing of, those projects. The DEP has invested more than $2 billion to date in CSO controls and has committed to an additional $1.3 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, the DEP is preparing CSO Long Term Control Plans that will assess additional CSO controls to acheive the highest reasonably achievable water quality standards.

As of June 2013, the DEP has completed construction of three Neighborhood Demonstration Areas, in which dozens of bioswales were installed to allow the city to measure CSO volume reductions from green infrastructure projects on a multi-block scale. Taken together, the three installations are projected to collect more than 7 million gallons of stormwater a year and keep it out of the combined sewer system. Citywide, the city has installed 119 bioswales to date and expects to rapidly accelerate construction in the coming years, with near-term goals of 2,000 bioswales by the end of 2014 and 6,000 by the end of 2015.

Preventing Floatables from Washing Up on New York City Beaches

CSOs discharged from New York City also carry floating debris made up of street litter and toilet waste such as hygiene products. When discharged to the New York/New Jersey Harbor Complex, the floating debris tends to collect into slicks that can wash up on beaches. The multi-agency Floatables Action Plan employs several means of controlling floating debris, such as helicopter surveillance to locate slicks, catch basins to reduce the discharge of street litter to sewers, increased street cleaning in some neighborhoods, skimmer vessels fitted with nets that collect floating debris, floating booms that trap debris near sewer system discharge points for later collection, and sewer system improvements intended to maximize the ability to retain floating debris.

Monitoring

Sampling Practices

The monitoring season generally extends from May to September. Sampling practices, locations, and notification protocols for coastal beaches in the state have been established by each of the administering agency's 12 contractors in accordance with U.S. EPA guidance criteria for the requirements of the BEACH Act grant. Samples are collected at knee depth in water that is approximately 3 feet deep. Monitoring locations and sampling frequency depend on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) potential pollution sources, historical water quality, and physical characteristics of the beach property.

Samples taken as part of sanitary surveys and special studies may be taken at outfalls and other sources. Some jurisdictions sample more frequently once an exceedance of standards is found.

Closings and Advisories

Standards and Procedures

Both closings and advisories are issued for beaches in the state. For marine beaches, New York uses an enterococcus single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml. For freshwater beaches, the state uses a single-sample maximum of 235 cfu/100 ml for E. coli or 61 cfu/100 ml for enterococcus. Whether or not geometric mean standards are applied when making closing and advisory decisions depends on the local beach authority. In addition to the single-sample maximum standard for marine beaches, New York City applies a geometric mean standard for enterococcus of 35 cfu/100 ml for a series of five or more samples collected during a 30-day period.

When water quality monitoring reveals an exceedance of bacterial standards, the local beach authority either notifies the public or resamples within 24 hours if there is reason to doubt the validity of the original result. If the resample exceeds the water quality standard, a closing or advisory is issued. At New York City beaches that are found to have elevated bacteria levels, the department either conducts immediate resampling, issues a pollution advisory and conducts resampling, or closes the beach and conducts resampling.

All of the counties with marine beaches and most of the counties with Great Lakes beaches issue preemptive advisories based on rainfall amounts or other conditions. A sanitation and safety survey or investigation that reveals the presence of floatable debris, medical/infectious waste, toxic contaminants, petroleum products, and/or other contamination on the beach or evidence of sewage and wastewater discharge can also trigger an advisory or closing.

Several of New York's beachwater quality jurisdictions have developed models of various designs and complexity for their beaches. For example, Monroe County uses a model based on the amount of rainfall, the flow rate of the Genessee River, turbidity, and the presence of algae and other organic debris. The Interstate Environmental Commission initiated the development of an extensive hydrodynamic loading model (the Regional Bypass Model), which is integrated into the beach monitoring and notification programs of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Westchester County Health Department. Erie and Monroe Counties and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation are working with the United States Geological Survey to examine predictive models using EPA's Virtual Beach software. Chautauqua County has also developed models using Virtual Beach.

New York State Coastal Policy 30 states: "Municipal, industrial, and commercial discharge of pollutants, including but not limited to, toxic and hazardous substances, into coastal waters will conform to state and national water quality standards."

You can access county health departments via the NYDOH website. For example here is the Suffolk County Beach Water Quality Monitoring page.

For water quality information for beaches in Nassau County, you can call Nassau County Department of Health weekdays, 9:00 A.M. – 4:45 P.M. at 227-9717.

Some water quality monitoring is conducted at the local level. For instance, the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways monitors their waters, although water quality data does not appear to be available on their Website.

An interesting document (historical perspective) is the Coordinated Water Resources Monitoring Strategy for the South Shore Estuary Reserve, prepared by Ecologic, LLC (January 2000). This report recommends adding analysis for enterococcus at bathing beach sites during the recreation season to protect public health and allow a correlation between new and existing indicators. Chapter 4 of the report summarizes the existing Federal, County, and Town monitoring programs in tabular form, including bathing water quality programs in Nassau County and Suffolk County.

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in New York.

Water Quality Contacts

New York State Department of Health
Bureau of Community Environmental Health and Food Protection
New York Beach Water Quality Program Quality Assurance Officer
Room 515 Flanagan Square
547 River Street
Troy, New York 12180-2216
Phone: (518) 402-7600
Fax: (518) 402-7609

Eric Wiegert
New York State Department of Health
Email: ejw05@health.state.ny.us

Kendel Dunham
New York State Department of Health
Email: Kcd01@health.state.ny.us

Angela O'Haire
Lily Huang
NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Environmental Management Bureau (17th Floor)
Empire State Plaza, Agency Bldg. 1
Albany, NY 12238
Phone (518) 474-0409
Fax (518) 474-7013

Beach Closures

Information on beach closures in New York is reported to the public by county health departments, using a variety of media. They maintain records of closures for their jurisdictions. General closure information and, if the county health department made notification, specific closure sites can be obtained from the NYDOH hotline (800) 458-1158.

A study by Martin Cantor of Dowling College indicated that municipal and state beach closures from Memorial Day through Aug. 3, 2007 cost Long Island's tourism industry $60 million.

NRDC reported:

In 2013, New York reported 362 beaches, of which 359 were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 13% exceeded the Beach Action Values (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample and 190 E. coli bacteria cfu/100 ml for freshwater in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Wright Park East Beach in Chautauqua County (50%), Copiague Harbor Beach in Suffolk County (50%), Douglaston Homeowners Association Beach in Queens County (46%), Ontario Beach in Monroe County (40%), and Wright Park West Beach in Chautauqua County (38%).


For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.

Conditions at New York City beaches can be ascertained from this website.

The City of New York has published a New York City Beach 2014 Surveillance and Monitoring Program Summary which contains the following discussion (slightly edited):

New Initiatives 2014
This beach year, the Department completed a comprehensive upgrade to the Program’s Public Notification and Risk Communication efforts. New user friendly, easy to read signs were developed and implemented and The Department rolled out a new free texting service called “Know Before You Go” for the 2014 beach season. These new initiatives were highlighted in EPA’s National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants, 2014 Edition where case study examples of the Departments revised notification signage, and digital and mobile notification systems were included.

New Public Risk Communication Signs
This season, the Department developed user friendly, easy to read public notification signs for closures and warnings. The new sign design was informed by a substantial effort during the 2013 season to improve risk communication to the public when beach water quality exceeds or is expected to exceed acceptable standards.

In 2013, the Department initiated a study amongst NYC beachgoers to assess public awareness and the effectiveness of the then current beach notification methods for reporting water quality conditions at New York City beaches. Participants in intercept surveys and focus groups provided baseline data on how warning messages in beach advisories and closures influenced public perception and understanding of water quality risks and the impact of advisories on beach attendance and swimming behaviors.

Upon completion of the study, the "Wet Weather" and "Pollution Advisories" were combined to a new "Warning" status which encompasses any condition which would warrant a Warning notification including preemptive rain events. Based on study results, the new signage was re- named and posted in 2014 using the language “Warning” instead of “Advisory” to foster public understanding of notifications and risk communication. The signs communicate the core recommendations clearly and directly and provide supplemental information on the basis for the Warning or Closure.

Know Before You Go
The texting service enabled subscribers to make informed decisions before they went to the beach by checking if the beach was open or closed or if there were any warnings due to wet weather conditions or water quality concerns. Subscribers simply text “BEACH” to 877-877 to get updates on the beach status of any of the eight public beaches in New York City. Prior to the texting roll-out, the DOHMH initiated an extensive outreach advertising campaign using MTA Bus shelters and the Staten Island Ferry LED advertising display. Throughout the season in addition to providing information on beach status the Department also used this tool to broadcast safety related messages including a warning for high RIP currents and when beaches opened and closed for the season.

By the close of the beach season, there were over 3000 subscribers to “Know Before You Go.” Most subscribers indicated a specific beach for which they would like information. Coney Island and Rockaway Beach were the most popular beach-specific subscriptions. Based on an instant poll results from subscribers at the end of the season, more than half (67%) found the texting service to be “very useful”.

Clean Streets=Clean Beaches
In a continued effort to prevent floating debris and trash from reaching NYC area beaches, through a multi-Departmental effort, the City launched the “Clean Streets=Clean Beaches” campaign on July 8th from the MCU Park in Coney Island, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. At the event, “Clean Streets=Clean Beaches” flyer toys were handed out to approximately 5,000 children attending the Cyclones game from area day camps and the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. In partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Sanitation more than 200 participants in the SYEP were involved in removing litter and debris from waterfront properties throughout the five boroughs. As part of the campaign’s education and outreach initiatives, Clean Streets=Clean Beaches posters were displayed on over 2,000 sanitation vehicles throughout the 5 boroughs and at area beaches and thousands of reusable tote bags were handed out at New York City beaches throughout the season.

In order to control floatable debris from entering area waterways, especially when Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) discharge into the New York City harbor during wet weather events, DEP employs several pollution prevention and control programs. Hooded catch basins help reduce the discharge of street litter to sewers, targeted neighborhood street cleaning, skimmer vessels fitted with nets that collect floating debris, floating booms that trap debris and sewer- system improvements all help to maximize the ability to retain floating debris before they enter the ocean. DEP maintains 24 floatable containment facilities and 4 CSO retention facilities that significantly reduce CSO overflows and control floatables. DEP has also completed the installation of three litter control devices located within sewer outfalls along the Bronx River that use hydraulic bar screens and nylon netting systems to capture litter before it reaches the river. This is the first time this type of technology is being used in New York City, and a similar facility is slated to be completed at the head of the Gowanus Canal.

Post Super Storm Sandy Re-construction
Rehabilitation work to area beaches as a result of the destruction caused by Super Storm Sandy continued during the off-season and into the 2014 beach season. Ongoing work included the implementation of emergency protective measures to serve as erosion and coastal flooding protection during potentially high surf conditions. Temporary barriers were set up which included the construction of a berm along the shoreline and installing sand-filled geotextile bags in Rockaway Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, South Beach and Midland Beach.

In Rockaway new concrete baffle walls were erected from 129th to 149th Streets and reconstruction of the boardwalk which included removing the existing concrete pylons from the old boardwalk was underway between 87th and 105th Streets. The new boardwalk will be made of steel and will incorporate a sea wall on one side for protection. The elevation of the new boardwalk will be on the 100-year flood plan level. This segment of the boardwalk reconstruction project is expected to be completed in 2015. Mobi-mats were installed at most beach access ramps to facilitate beach accessibility.

Water Quality Results and Illness Reporting
Routine water quality monitoring and sample collection was performed at all twenty-three permitted beaches. Approximately 1570 samples were collected and analyzed from these beaches between April and September 2014, 360 of which were collected prior to the start of the beach season which begins Memorial Day weekend. There was no recreational water illness complaints reported to the Department during the season.

During the 2014 beach season Cedar Grove beach in Staten Island had the highest percentage exceedance rate for all public beaches (11.8%) while Rockaway Beach and Orchard Beach had no exceedances. Extremely heavy rainfall events due to passing thunderstorms resulted in a high amount of surface runoff and subsequent sporadic water quality exceedances in Staten Island, especially at Cedar Grove Beach and Brooklyn in July.

For private beaches, Douglaston Manor had the highest exceedance rate (18.3%), while Morris Yacht Club, West Fordham Civic Association and Breezy Point had no exceedances. The repetitive North Easterly track of summer thunderstorm activity has an impact on private beaches in the Bronx which are susceptible to runoff resulting in elevated bacteriological levels. Bronx private beaches are located in the western terminus of the Long Island Sound which has a complex hydrodynamic system. Long retention times, complex water circulation and mixing patterns and seasonal tidal variations can produce poor mixing in these waters and may contribute to deteriorated water quality.


In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for Alabama's 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.

The EPA has information on water quality in New York, including a fact sheet on the state's 2012 Impaired Waters list.

The United States Geological Survey maintains a website, USGS Water Resources of New York. This site is a valuable source of information including current projects, online reports, publications, maps, real-time water conditions, and educational outreach material for teachers and students. http://ny.water.usgs.gov/

New York Sea Grant is another source of information on water quality http://www.seagrant.sunysb.edu/

In July 2006 it was announced that a Clean Ocean Zone bill had been introduced in Congress by Reps. James Saxton and Frank Pallone of New Jersey. The bill would seek permanent protection of the New York/New Jersey bight, which consists of the New Jersey and New York ocean coasts. It will prohibit new ocean dumpsites, discharges of pollutants from old or new sites, and the creation of any nonrenewable energy facility, pipeline, or deepwater port. It also prevents the extraction of any nonrenewable natural resource for commercial or industrial use, unless it contributes to navigation channels, beach replenishment, flood control, erosion control, or habitat restoration.

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

Information on the location or number of storm drains and sewage outfalls in New York was not readily available. The NYDEC does not maintain a statewide inventory of outfalls or storm drains. An increasing number of municipalities, however, are mapping drains and control structures, a process which is anticipated to accelerate with the adoption of the Phase II stormwater regulations. For example, Nassau County has plotted outfalls. Other locations are working on similar projects with financial support from the State. All existing data is kept with the entity doing the mapping (typically, county, town, or village).[1]

In June 2014 Northeast Ocean Data announced the release of easy-to-use interactive maps of water quality data for the northeastern states from New York to Maine. Based on data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the maps display No Discharge Zones, impaired waters, and wastewater discharges. Also shown on the maps are boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds in the region. To view the water quality maps, go here.

New York State Coastal Policy 33 states: "Best management practices will be used to ensure the control of stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows draining into coastal waters."

New York State Coastal Policy 37 states: "Best management practices will be utilized to minimize the non-point discharge of excess nutrients, organics and eroded soils into coastal waters."

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates all storm and wastewater outfalls under their State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Under the State's Discharge Notification Act, major outfalls must be identified with a sign that states the nature of the discharge and contact information. Permits may be reviewed at the DEC regional offices. Many municipalities also regulate stormwater runoff through local land use authorization.

The New York State Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program (CNPCP) was fully approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 1, 2006. This program sets forth an effective approach to the management of nonpoint pollution affecting coastal water from forestry, agriculture, marinas, hydro-modifications, urban, and other sources, as well as the protection of wetlands and management of critical coastal areas. The focus of the CNPCP is now primarily on watershed protection, reducing pollution from existing development, wastewater management, and mitigating hydrologic modification. The NYSCMP formerly administered funds from the New York State Clean Water Clean Air Bond Act that are directed to the Department of State for award to local municipalities and other entities. (The funds are now depleted.) Since 1996, 75 projects addressing stormwater management and aquatic habitat protection have been or are being managed by the Division of Coastal Resources: 20 have been completed since 2003, and 35 were under way as of early 2008. The state’s Environmental Protection Fund (a permanent fund dedicated to addressing a broad range of environmental and coastal issues that is funded from real estate transfer tax revenues) has funded local waterfront revitalization programs, many of which have prepared and implemented watershed plans. As of early 2008, 12 watershed plans had been completed and 13 plans were in progress. Other special planning tools, such as harbor management plans, also are funded, in part, to protect water quality.

Sewage Treatment and Disposal

In Nassau County, the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant is permitted to discharge 72 million gallons per day into the Atlantic Ocean, 2.5 miles off Tobay Beach on Jones Island. The current average discharge is about 57 million gallons per day. There have been complaints raised for years about deferred maintenance at the Cedar Creek plant, as well as concerns about inadequate staffing. Local newspaper articles were written about these problems in 2005 Disastrous Sewage Plant Threatens Health and again in 2010 Nassau’s Cedar Creek Sewage Plant is a Time Bomb (4/29/10) and Problems Still Rampant At Cedar Creek Sewage Plant (7/29/10). These articles raise concerns about both inadequate treatment (poor condition of bar screens, grit chambers, chlorination system) and safety (potential methane gas releases and explosions). A 2009 Powerpoint Presentation Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan Community Informational Meeting, by Nassau County paints a rosier picture of the plant's condition.

Similar problems plague the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, also in Nassau County. An article Bay Park Sewage Plant Still Dumping Waste In Fishing Waters appeared in the Long Island Press on December 16, 2010. The article discusses the frequent discharge of poorly-treated wastewater into Reynolds Channel. Many residents, environmentalists, civil leaders and politicians are concerned about both the discharge and the lack of public notification of the human health hazards the discharge could represent.

Additional sewage treatment plants (STPs) discharge into Reynolds Channel and South Oyster Bay, which lie between the barrier islands and Long Island.[2]

Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012 caused flooding, equipment failures and massive releases of untreated sewage that extended for weeks after the storm. A NY Times article Sewage Flows After Storm Expose Flaws in System detailed these problems and contained the quote “This is the largest sewage release in the history of Long Island,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group. “This brings to a new level the public health threat and the duration for the contamination, which will have a serious adverse impact on our beaches and our bays.” A report Sewage Overflows from Hurricane Sandy (April 2013) summarized the impacts in New York as follows:

  • New York City reported six sewage spills larger than 100 million gallons, and 28 larger than 1 million gallons.
  • Long Island faced large spills from the Bay Park facility. When the plant was knocked out of service for 44 hours, roughly 100 million gallons of untreated sewage overflowed into Long Island’s Hewlett Bay. Another 2.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage flowed through the plant during the 44 days it took to fully restore operations.
  • In Westchester County, 49 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed from the Yonkers treatment plant during 14 hours at the peak of the storm. Another 1.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage flowed from the plant in the ensuing four weeks.
  • The cost of repairing Sandy’s damage to sewage treatment plants in New York is estimated at nearly $2 billion.


An article Pollution from sewage found off Long Beach appeared at Newsday.com on February 10, 2011. The article (subscription required) begins: "New data from studies measuring pollution in Hempstead Bay indicate water there is laden with nitrogen and awash in treated effluent from five nearby sewage plants."

There is also a state-owned sewage treatment plant that treats the waste generated by visitors to Jones Beach and the waterfront amphitheater. That plant discharges to the shallow back bays and marsh islands north of the park and then into Zachs Bay. The Jones Beach plant has the capacity to treat 2.5 million gallons per day, but typically receives less than half that even on busy days, according to parks officials. As of late 2007, the plant had logged 32 water-quality violations since 2004. One option being considered is to connect the plant's discharge to Nassau County's Cedar Creek facility, which empties into the Atlantic. The plan to send Jones Beach's treated sewage out to the ocean instead of discharging it in the bays behind the barrier island received tentative approval from state environmental officials in August 2009. The $2.5 million project would connect the state park's sewage plant - which now empties into Sloop Channel about a mile north of Jones Beach - with the ocean outfall pipe from Nassau County's Cedar Creek treatment facility in Wantagh.

In late 2011 plans to sell or lease sewage treatment plants in Nassau County were floated by the County Executive. In response, the Nassau County Coalition of Civic Associations, along with the Sludge Stoppers Task Force, Operation Splash, Surfrider Foundation and the Long Beach Surf Association joined together to mount a petition drive to stop these plans and force the county to increase transparency and public input into their decision-making processes.

In Suffolk County, one STP discharges directly into the Atlantic. This outfall is offshore of Gilgo Beach. The STP is permitted to discharge 30.5 million gallons per day and the waste receives secondary treatment. Over the past year the average discharge was 21 million gallons per day.[3]

New York state officials announced in March 2003 an $83.2 million agreement to continue protection and restoration efforts at Long Island Sound. The funding is being provided under New York's 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act, which authorizes $1.75 billion for a variety of environmental programs. It includes $200 million to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound, and some $186.6 million of this total has been allocated. The agreement will fund 12 projects, including wastewater treatment, stormwater control, nonpoint source pollution control and wetlands restoration. These projects all designed to address priorities outlined in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound. These priorities are nitrogen control, habitat restoration, stormwater controls, sewer overflow abatement and sediment remediation.

On July 20, 2005, New York Mayor Bloomberg signed a City Council bill requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to create a watershed protection plan for the watershed/sewershed of Jamaica Bay. The legislation established a plan for restoring and maintaining the water quality and ecological integrity of the Bay by evaluating threats and coordinating environmental remediation and protection efforts.

The preservation of the Jamaica Bay watershed is essential to maintaining its function as an ecological wetland as well as a recreational location for City residents who use the Bay for fishing and boating. Over the years, Jamaica Bay has been harmed by overdevelopment and pollution. DEP’s current mission is to investigate sources affecting pollution and to develop an action plan for the future.

In early 2006, New York State and New York City reached an agreement that will sharply reduce nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment plants on the East River. The purpose of the agreement is to improve water quality in Long Island Sound. Under this settlement, the City of New York will upgrade its sewage treatment plants and improve water quality from Jamaica Bay to the East River to Long Island Sound. The City and State of New York had been engaged in discussions and legal actions concerning reductions in nitrogen discharges from City wastewater treatment facilities to Long Island Sound since 1999. Under the new agreement, New York City will undertake a phased approach that, by 2017, will result in a 58.5 percent reduction in nitrogen discharges from its wastewater treatment plants. The agreement also provides for the City to construct upgraded wastewater facilities at the 26th Ward Water Pollution Control Plant on Jamaica Bay, conduct further studies on Jamaica Bay, and submit by October 2006 a comprehensive plan to achieve water quality standards for Jamaica Bay. The consent judgment includes compliance dates for all construction activities; penalties in the event of noncompliance in the future; and interim targets for nitrogen reduction. The City is also required to pay a civil penalty in the amount of $2.7 million to the New York State Marine Resources Account, a funding source dedicated to the management of marine resources and habitat. In addition to the civil penalty, the City has agreed to provide $5.3 million to perform Environmental Benefit Projects that will support the restoration of waters in and around New York City. Among the proposed projects are: controlling stormwater pollutants, restoring tidal wetlands, and undertaking comprehensive efforts to remove litter and debris from stream banks around Jamaica Bay and other waters.

In April 2015 a $16 million construction project was underway in Hamburg near Woodlawn Beach on New York's Lake Erie shoreline. During heavy rains, water inundates old pipes and and undersized wastewater treatment plants. That leads to overflows of raw sewage into Rush Creek and other tributaries that eventually flow into Lake Erie. Rush Creek empties into Lake Erie at the eastern edge of Woodlawn Beach. The current work will divert sewage from an older, smaller treatment plant unable to handle the volume to a bigger plant that will soon be able to accommodate the overflows and keep them from the creeks and lake. Besides sewage, which is a key cause of the proliferation of harmful bacteria at the beach, a recent state parks study at Woodlawn found stormwater outfalls, urban runoff, contaminated stream drainage as well as algae and leafy debris, also contribute to bacterial growth there. Tom Kacalski, Lackawanna’s soccer coach, died during summer 2014 from a suspected freshwater bacterial infection he picked up at Woodlawn Beach – a tragic reminder of the threat posed by raw sewage and bacteria in lakes and streams. More.

No Discharge Areas

In September 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency announced that boats will be prohibited from dumping sewage in New York State waters in Long Island Sound. The new ban, covering 760 square miles, makes the entire Sound a no-discharge zone; Connecticut secured the same designation for its portion of the Sound in 2007. See all the No Discharge Areas for boat sewage in New England.

In June 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation declared the New York side of the Lake Erie shoreline a no discharge zone. The no discharge zone for the New York State portion of Lake Erie is a 593 square mile area and 84 miles that includes the waters of the lake from the Pennsylvania-New York State boundary, as well as the Upper Niagara River and numerous other tributaries, harbors and bays of the Lake, including Barcelona Harbor, Dunkirk Harbor and the Buffalo Outer Harbor.

Combined Sewer Overflows

The problem of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) is a huge one in New York City and elsewhere in New York state. Combined sewers are ones that accept both storm drain flow and sewage. These systems may work well in dry weather, but during periods of substantial rain, the sewers can overflow, releasing large quantities of untreated sewage to inland waterways and the ocean.

Long Island Soundkeeper and New York Riverkeeper claim that New York City's Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) System discharges 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage to the Sound each year.

An excellent summary article on the problem of CSOs titled Our Secret Epidemic appears on the website of Riverkeeper.

In July 2011 EPA released a report Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water, to answer commonly asked questions about combined sewer overflows. Many of the sewer systems in New York State and New Jersey and some in Puerto Rico are combined systems that carry sewage from homes and businesses as well as rainwater collected from street drains. When they overflow during heavy rains, the rainwater mixes with sewage and results in raw sewage being directly discharged into water bodies. These discharges are called combined sewer overflows and can pose serious environmental and public health risks. EPA's report explains what Combined Sewer Overflows are, the human health and environmental effects of sewer overflows, the prevalence and location of CSOs in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, and actions that are being implemented and can be taken to address the problem.

In October 2010 the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to invest up to $1.5 billion over the next 20 years on new environmental techniques to reduce the flow of sewage into the city’s waterways. The plan (24 MB PDF) calls for building an infrastructure to capture and retain storm water before it reaches the sewer system and overloads it. The city would foster investments in projects like green roofs with plantings, porous pavement for parking lots, rain barrels, wetlands and depressions for collecting water in parks. Such strategies would complement more traditional methods to control sewage overflows like underground storage tanks and tunnel systems. The plan is intended to block the overflow of untreated sewage and storm water into bodies of water like New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay and Newtown Creek when it rains.

In October 2011 an article in the NY Times New Tactics and Billions to Manage City Sewage stated that the Bloomberg administration was set to commit $2.4 billion in public and private money over a 20-year period to introduce infrastructure to retain storm water before it reaches the sewer system and overloads it. The approach reflects a shift from traditional sewage-control methods to techniques like green roofs with plantings, porous pavement for parking lots and depressions for collecting water in parks.

Administrators of the two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions responsible for the health of the Long Island Sound and the environmental commissioners of New York and Connecticut signed agreements in September 2006 that support ongoing efforts to protect and restore this important body of water. As members of the Long Island Sound Policy Committee, the officials adopted a stewardship initiative focused on areas of the Sound with significant ecological and recreational value, and authorized a fund that will disburse $6 million for research and restoration. The officials also approved a Memorandum of Understanding to restore, by 2011, 300 acres of coastal habitats and 50 river miles of fish passages to spawning sites. In addition, they signed a directive calling for an evaluation of the management plan for hypoxia to assure that the states and federal government are on target to meet water quality standards for sufficient levels of dissolved oxygen in the Sound.

Septic Systems

Septic systems are used to treat wastewater from homes and small businesses—primarily in rural and suburban areas—that aren’t served by sewer systems and treatment plants. In a properly functioning septic system, pollutant concentrations found in raw sewage are reduced through biological processes that occur in a septic tank, where solid materials settle out and the remaining liquid passes through. Upon leaving the septic tank, the liquid is dispersed through a soil absorption field where further treatment takes place. Very old and/or failing septic systems threaten both groundwater and surface water by releasing untreated or ineffectively treated wastewater into the ground or, even worse, directly into a watercourse.

Septic systems (residential onsite wastewater treatment systems) are quite prevalent in rural areas of New York. The New York State Department of Health has developed a design handbook for these systems, last updated in 2012.

New York City has online information on septic systems.

East Hampton Town is an example of an area which is dependent on septic systems. A recent study evaluated 20,058 developed lots in the town, using information about their size, location, soils, date of construction, and more to make conclusions about the state of each property’s wastewater system and its potential contribution to environmental pollution. The study team then took a closer look at about 7,500 lots, including those in various watersheds. This initial review identified problems that should be corrected on at least 1,760 properties. Bacterial contamination due to the proximity of wastewater and private well water systems was identified on 960 properties. In addition, neighborhood treatment systems have been suggested to solve various wastewater issues on the 656 properties in the East Hampton Village business district and in Montauk’s Ditch Plain, Camp Hero, downtown, and dock areas. Read more.

Perception of Causes

NYSDOS staff believes that non-point source pollution, specifically urban runoff, is the greatest threat to coastal water quality for the south shore of Long Island and New York City.[4]

New Yorkers for Parks inspected all seven City beaches (Coney Island/Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn; Midland Beach, South Beach and Wolfe's Pond Beach on Staten Island; Orchard Beach in the Bronx; and Rockaway Beach in Queens) for their 2011 Report Card on Beaches, examining for cleanliness and safety. The report discusses the conditions of the beaches and recommends strategies for improvement. The average beach score has increased from an F in 2007 to a B+ in 2011.

New York City prepares annual New York Harbor Water Quality reports and has recently prepared a centennial report. Here is a link to the 2010 report. Here's the Harbor Water Quality Survey website. The reports document a gradual improvement in Harbor water quality (parameters measured are fecal coliform bacteria, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll 'a', and Secchi transparency) over the years, primarily through improved levels of sewage treatment and reductions in combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The NYC Green Infrastructure Plan is anticipated to further reduce CSOs.

On the other hand, NRDC released a report in December 2002 titled Cape May To Montauk: A Coastal Protection Report Card which warns "Much of the progress made in cleaning up the waters in the New York-New Jersey harbor area is now imperiled by widespread pollution and unchecked coastal development." NRDC identified several municipal wastewater treatment facilities and industrial facilities in New York that had numerous pollutant discharge violations, including:

  • Jamaica Water Pollution Control Plant in New York City
  • Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Plum Island
  • SCSD #3-Southwest Plant in the Town of Babylon
  • Watergate Garden Apartments in Patchogue (Brookhaven)
  • LaGuardia Airport Petroleum Bulk Stations in New York City
  • Eagle Oil in the Town of Hempstead
  • Yonkers Joint Municipal Sewage Treatment Plant in Yonkers
  • NCSD #2, Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in Hempstead
  • Floyd Bennett Field Sewage Treatment Plant in New York City
  • Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant in New York City
  • Long Beach Water Pollution Control Plant in Long Beach (Hempstead)


The New York State Water Quality Report (Section 305(b) Report) is a compilation of water quality assessment information contained in the Waterbody Inventory/Priority Waterbodies List Basin Reports.

The list of Impaired/TMDL Waters (Section 303(d) List) is a list of those waters that do not meet water quality standards and support uses, and that require the development of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or other appropriate strategy to restore the water use.

At the end of 2011 Connecticut Fund for the Environment released a State of the Sound report. The report provided grades for the combined Connecticut and New York efforts to control pollution and restore water quality and habitat. The report gave a B- grade for beach litter, a D+ grade for raw sewage and a C- grade for stormwater runoff. The overall grade given for Connecticut and New York efforts to restore Long Island Sound was C+.

The EPA has reported that urban runoff is a major source of pollution in the state's estuaries. Bacteria from urban runoff and other sources close about 104,000 acres (11%) of potential shellfishing beds in the New York City-Long Island region. Contaminated sediments are a primary source of impairment of Great Lakes shorelines and state estuarine waters. Sediments are contaminated with PCBs, chlorinated organic pesticides, mercury, cadmium, mirex, and dioxins that bio-concentrate in the food chain and result in fish consumption advisories.

Public Education

To assist communities in addressing shared issues and opportunities in water resource management, the Department of State prepared a multi-media package, including the Watershed Plans: Protecting and Restoring Water Quality video and companion guidebook, designed to encourage and assist local watershed planning and implementation efforts. The video highlights communities that are reaping the benefits of protecting and restoring water resources through the preparation and implementation of watershed plans in New York. The Watershed Plans: Protecting and Restoring Water Quality Guidebook provides a step-by-step watershed planning process for communities to create a watershed plan that will protect and improve water quality.

New York City’s beach monitoring program maintains a website that provides the public with information about how to keep the beaches clean. This website has information about what can be done while at the beach as well as landscaping and cleaning practices at home that can influence beachwater quality.

The New York State Department of Health (NYDOH) Website has a search function which can be used to check out their fact sheet on swimmer's itch or another topic.

New York State has extensive and intensive educational programs through the Department of Environmental Conservation. For instance, here and here you'll find information on stormwater permits, watershed stewardship, non-point source management program, wastewater treatment plant data, educational programs and many other related subjects.

General Reference Documents

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.


Footnotes

  1. Fred Anders, NYSDOS, written correspondence. February 6, 2002.
  2. John Jacobs, personal communication. June 22, 1999.
  3. Fred Anders, NYSDOS, written correspondence. February 6, 2002.
  4. Fred Anders, NYSDOS, Surfrider State of the Beach survey response, January 9, 2003.



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