Letter: Raw sewage in the Hudson

Building awareness of sewage outflow into Hudson River

Most people probably don’t know that after heavy rains up and along the Hudson – untreated raw sewage can flow into the river from dozens of points.

Sandy Sobanski, founder of the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse wants everyone to know – and what can be done to bring this outdated system into modern times.

Considering Hoboken doesn’t care about this – private individuals have to lead the way and take charge.

Sewage outflow into Hudson from Hoboken NJ

Letter: Be aware of sewage pumped into the Hudson

“I founded the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse many years ago.

I had two goals. I wanted everyone to have free river access – and I wanted people to learn to appreciate their powerful beautiful river and lovely shoreline.

Now that I live in Manhattan, I volunteer at the Downtown Boathouse where My boat “lives” and I originally learned to kayak.

For years – on both sides of the Hudson I have witnessed a pattern after heavy rain. The lovely river with strong changing ocean water – gets polluted when our combined sewage systems overflow after heavy rains. Some untreated sewage goes directly into the Hudson. Luckily the river does have strong currents and it tends to clean itself out eventually – but this polluting sewage system does not have to be.

It is antiquated and filthy and must stop!

Other cities and states have stopped this practice. New York has “the Sewage Right To Know” legislation coming up and New Jersey can work in it’s own way to help keep The Hudson River clean. Please below to write your representatives to help our river stay clean.
See you on the water!”

Sandy Sobanski

North Hudson Sewerage Authority Hoboken NJ

How you can help keep the Hudson Clean

  1. Sign the Change.org petition to tell the Commissioner Martin of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that 30 years is long enough to find a way to keep raw sewage out of our waterways! New Jersey residents deserve to have swimmable and fishable water.
  2. Senator Bob Smith (D-Parsippany) is working on a bill, S. 831, to require public notification of sewage spills and of sewage overflow points. Please contact your state legislators and tell them to work with Senator Smith on this important legislation. Contact Senator Smith at (732) 752-0770 or senbsmith@njleg.org and tell him you support his efforts.
  3. Keep your own stormwater out of the sewage system by planting rain gardens, using rain barrels and using other “green infrastructure.” Urge your town to implement low impact design. NRDC has a new report on green infrastructure. Rutgers also has great information available here.
  4. The EPA knows that New Jersey has been “studying” the CSO problem for long enough and has been urging the State to take action. Contact EPA and encourage it to use its oversight authority and force the State of New Jersey to comply with the Clean Water Act. Please email Region 2 at RA@epamail.epa.gov
  5. If you’re on Facebook, join these groups: I Use New Jersey’s Waters and I Hate Combined Sewer Outfalls to discuss these issues and access information as it becomes available.

The Water Looks So Pretty; Why Can’t We Go In?

Every year approximately 23 BILLION gallons of raw sewage are dumped into New Jersey’s rivers, mainly the Hudson, Passaic, Hackensack, Raritan, and Delaware rivers. Sewage (or wastewater) is the water from residents’ toilets and sinks, as well as untreated industrial waste and untreated rain water (stormwater) that has animal waste, oil, pesticides, and other contaminants in it. As little as a twentieth of an inch of rain can send dangerous mix of bacteria and pollutants straight into many of New Jersey’s rivers (and then the bays and eventually the ocean). Contaminating the water with sewage is not only bad for the animals that live in the water, but anyone who touches the water by splashing, kayaking, swimming, or fishing can get terribly sick. People can get skin or eye infections, hepatitis, and dysentery, among other things. This is why– even with access to these rivers–one often can look but not touch.

Ewwww! Why Would Raw Sewage Go Into the Water?

Combined Sewer Systems are old infrastructure that was designed to channel stormwater runoff, industrial wastewater and domestic sewage through the same pipe, instead of through separate pipes (which is modern practice). These combined sewer systems are found throughout many older communities, including many towns in New Jersey. Under dry conditions, the wastewater is treated at a sewage treatment plant and then discharged into a water body such as a river. When it rains, or snow melts, water flowing from impermeable surfaces such as roofs, streets, and paved areas can quickly overload the combined systems. The combined sewer system is designed to then overflow and dump excess untreated wastewater through an outfall (a big, open pipe), directly to area rivers. This untreated discharge is called a “combined sewer overflow,” or CSO. In short, dirty and hazardous water is getting dumped directly into the rivers and bays.

How Do I Know if It Is Safe to Go in the Water?

You don’t! The water is not always dangerous, but for the rivers (and beaches along Raritan and Newark Bay that are not official “swimming” beaches), there is no system to tell people when it is or when it is not safe to go in the water. In fact, the State of New Jersey does not even test these rivers and bays to determine whether or not they are safe. There are usually no signs showing people where the sewage enters the water and no warning system to tell people when the water is unsafe.

Why Doesn’t Somebody Stop This?

The CSO problem is not only disgusting and dangerous, it is illegal. The Clean Water Act requires the “use of the best available technology” to make water safe for swimming and fishing, among other uses. The State of New Jersey knows that there is a sewage issue and has been “working on” the CSO problem for 30 years with almost no progress. New Jersey has the worst program in the country to tackle CSOs and the State’s main strategy is to merely “study” the problem. The problem has been studied, causes identified, and technology is available to fix it: it’s time for action. Fixing the CSO problem is not free but it must be done. The towns that currently put sewage in the water must either implement aggressive low impact design programs to capture stormwater and keep it out of the sewers (as many cities in other states have done) and/or upgrade their sewer systems. Fixing the CSO problem represents an investment in New Jersey’s future as it will create jobs, turn our rivers and bays into tourist and recreation destinations, and protect the health and safety of our residents.

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