The Gowanus Canal is a man-made waterbody that extends 1.8 miles from Gowanus Bay to Butler Street. It runs through the neighborhoods of Red Hook, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill. Originally a tidal estuary called the Gowanus Creek, it was converted to a canal in the mid to late 19th century to promote commerce. The surrounding area eventually became fully urbanized and industrialized. For much of the canal’s history, industrial and other wastes were discharged directly to the Canal without treatment.
The Canal was the one of the prime catalysts in shaping the industrial nature of the area, as foundries, gas manufacturing plants, coal yards, paint and ink factories and other businesses flocked to the waterfront and adjacent lots.
In 2010, the Canal was designated a federal Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in light of the contamination of Canal sediments that occurred over the Canal’s long history. The main goal of the CERCLA process is to remediate the contaminated sediments at the bottom of the Canal.
Water quality in the Canal is regulated under the Clean Water Act, and under a consent order with the State of New York (CSO Consent Order), the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is currently working on several projects to improve Canal water quality, including a $160 million upgrade to the “Flushing Tunnel,” which is currently scheduled for completion in Spring 2014. The Flushing Tunnel will bring water from Buttermilk Channel into the Canal and will bring cleaner, more oxygen-rich water to what is largely a dead-end waterway with little flushing action. This and other DEP projects will also benefit and strengthen the ecological health of the Canal.
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