New York City Mayor Eric Adams, standing on the banks of the polluted Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn on Wednesday, broke ground on a truly massive $1.6 billion project: two long-delayed underground sewage overflow tanks that will not only curb the pollution but also will also create 3.6 acres of new public waterfront open space. Adams said the two tanks would be able to store up to 12 million gallons of sewage overflow that comes from rain.
“Sewage overflow has long been a problem in the Gowanus area, and especially during heavy rainfalls,” Adams said. “These tanks, and the improved drainage, and pumping infrastructure around it, will keep the Gowanus Canal cleaner and provide more space for recreation and community activities.”
Adams made the announcement alongside Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Administrator Lisa Garcia. The tank Adams broke ground on Wednesday, which is the larger of the two, will hold up to 8 million gallons of sewage water, with the smaller tank able to store a maximum of 4 million. The tanks are expected to be finished around 2030.
“We’re not stopping here in Gowanus,” Adams added. “We want to make sure that every waterway here in New York City is clean enough so the dolphins will return, as we saw in the Bronx River.”
For decades, the waterway grew polluted from heavy industry. By 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the area as a Superfund site to set in motion a cleanup process. A dredging project that scooped toxic muck began in 2020 and ended in 2021. Crews then started work on stabilizing toxic sediment capping it so pollutants would be stifled.
Amid all this, the city rezoned the Gowanus area with an eye toward affordable housing and environmental protection, which set the stage for the second prong of the project, which includes almost four acres of community space and affordable housing being added to Gowanus.
Executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Andrea Parker said the public spaces included in the project were added through a hard-won battle.
“The Gowanus neighborhood is severely lacking in parks and greenspace and has long been disconnected from the canal itself,” she said. “The community fought really hard to make sure that planning for the tanks included real commitments to both preserving Thomas Green Park, right there, the one large park that we have, as well as providing more public space in the neighborhood.”
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