Printer Friendly Format Email a Friend

PR- 452-09
October 9, 2009


City Funded Project will Rehabilitate Long-Polluted Waterway

Marks Beginning of the City's Comprehensive Gowanus Clean-up Program

City Program will Provide Fastest Route to a Clean Canal

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the start of a $150 million project to substantially improve water quality in the Gowanus Canal and reduce its odor impacts.  The Gowanus facilities upgrade will rehabilitate the existing flushing tunnel and pump station, marking the beginning of a comprehensive clean-up of the long-polluted waterway.  The project will upgrade the canal’s wastewater pumping station to divert more Combined Sewer Overflows away from the canal and into a nearby sewage treatment plant, and will upgrade the existing flushing tunnel to significantly increase the flow of oxygen-rich water from the harbor into the Canal. The work also includes dredging sediment at the upper end of the canal, which will eliminate odors that can arise at low tide. Taken together, these upgrades will significantly improve water quality and the quality of life around the canal.   The Mayor was joined at the announcement by Department of Environmental Protection Acting Commissioner Steve Lawitts, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation , Dr. Daniel Walsh, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council Member Bill de Blasio, Council Member David Yassky, Joseph Seebode of the Army Corps of Engineers, Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation Executive Director Bill Appel and Community Board Six Chair Richard S. Bashner.

“The historic investments we have made in our water supply and our waterways are central to our administration’s sweeping environmental agenda, which will leave our children a greener, healthier city,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This project is a big step toward a comprehensive clean-up that will reduce odors, improve the canal’s ecology, and encourage recreational use of this waterway. And by continuing our partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers – instead of risking years of delay through the Superfund process – we can get the canal cleaned-up as thoroughly as Superfund, but more quickly and efficiently so that this neighborhood continues to grow and thrive.”

“The waterways surrounding New York are experiencing a renaissance and this project to improve the Gowanus Canal is going to be a significant part of it,” said Acting Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lawitts.  “The Harbor is cleaner now than at any time in the 100 years that we have been measuring harbor water quality. The continued improvements that are being made in wastewater and stormwater treatment are chiefly responsible for better water quality, bringing us closer to meeting Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC goal of opening 90 percent of our waterways to recreation.”

“New York City has a unique capacity to facilitate and conduct complicated environmental clean-ups. Under PlaNYC, the City will launch the nation’s first full-service municipal brownfield cleanup program this coming December,” said Director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation Dr. Daniel Walsh.  “The water quality projects the Mayor is announcing today, combined with cleanups performed under the new brownfield program taking place around the canal, will go a long way towards achieving the City’s goal of improving the quality of the environment for the Gowanus community.”

The $150 million project is fully funded with City capital dollars and is indicative of the Bloomberg Administration’s commitment to the City’s water supply and waterways.  Nearly $17 billion has been invested in clean water projects over the past eight years, which is by far the largest investment in the City’s water supply and waterways by any administration in New York City history.

The City’s Alternative Clean-Up Plan

The City has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive cleanup program for the Gowanus Canal that includes dredging decades of sediment from the canal bed.  In 2002, the City and the Army Corps formed a partnership to conduct a Feasibility Study to restore the canal’s ecosystem through the removal and remediation of sediments and habitat restoration.  In April of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed placing the canal on the National Priorities List, which would make it a Superfund site.

In July, the City submitted a detailed Alternative Cleanup Plan for the canal that would achieve a Superfund-level clean-up, with EPA oversight, faster than the Superfund process.  The plan would continue the City’s partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, and engage potentially responsible parties on a collaborative basis to contribute to the cleanup. Responsible parties will have an incentive to participate willingly under the Alternative Cleanup Plan because of the potential to get federal funding under the Water Resources Development Act, through the City’s partnership with the Army Corps.  The Alternative Cleanup Plan will get the canal clean sooner and more efficiently than a contentious Superfund process, and will avoid the risk of capital flight and disinvestment that can occur with a Superfund designation in a dense, vital, and developing neighborhood like Gowanus.  The EPA is still reviewing the City’s proposal, which can be viewed at

Gowanus Facilities Upgrade Project Details

The Gowanus Facilities Upgrade Project is scheduled for completion in 2013.  The project will reduce Combined Sewer Overflows into the Canal, reduce the floatable debris associated with Combined Sewer Overflows, decrease pathogen concentration, enhance dissolved oxygen levels and enable the canal to achieve secondary contact water quality standards.

The Gowanus Facilities Upgrade Project has three main components:

Wastewater Pumping Station

  • $85 million upgrade at the head of the canal.
  • Installation of four new pumps to increase Combined Sewer Overflow pumping capacity by 50 percent, from 20 million to 30 million gallons a day.
  • Construction of a mile-long sewage pipe connected to the pollution control plant at Red Hook to reduce Combined Sewer Overflows from running into the canal.
  • The upgrades are expected to reduce Combined Sewer Overflows into the canal by approximately 34 percent.

Flushing Tunnel

  • $50 million upgrade of the flushing tunnel, which pulls water from Buttermilk Channel into the head of the canal.
  • Water from the Buttermilk, which is fed by the East River, is oxygen-rich and pumping it into the canal improves overall water quality and mitigates the effects of Combined Sewer Overflows.
  • The existing single pump will be replaced with three pumps, increasing the daily flow of oxygen rich-water into the canal by 40 percent, from 154 million gallons a day to 215 million gallons a day.
  • The tunnel was opened nearly 100 years ago, fell into disrepair and became inoperable in the 1960s. The tunnel was reactivated 10 years ago.


  • 750 feet of the canal bed's upper reaches will be dredged.
  • The dredging will remove sediment mounds that are exposed during low tides, and eliminate a potential source of odors.


Stu Loeser / Marc LaVorgna   (212) 788-2958

Mike Saucier   (Department of Environmental Protection)
(718) 595-6600

More Resources
Watch the video in low or high bandwidth