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April 30, 1999

Contact: Charles Sturcken, Cathy DelliCarpini 718-595-6600

City Activates Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Joel A. Miele Sr., P.E. officially reactivated the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel today at a ceremony attended by community members, City officials and business leaders long interested in the revival of this part of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

"The activation of the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel has been a high priority for this administration," Commissioner Miele said, "and is consistent with Mayor Giuliani's efforts to improve both the quality of life for all New Yorkers and the economic climate throughout the City." He added, "I am proud that we have been able to develop this innovative pumping system that will not only improve water quality in the Canal and help return it to a living waterway for both recreational and industrial use, but will also contribute to the long-awaited resurgence of the surrounding Carroll Gardens community. This project is a prime example of how City government can respond to the needs of neighborhoods and communities."

In 1849, as part of its efforts to improve navigation in New York City, the New York State Legislature authorized construction of the Gowanus Canal. After its completion in the late 1860's, the Canal became an active waterway, crucial to the development of commerce and industry in the City. Factories and residential communities spread rapidly around the 2-mile long Canal. In time, the expanded use and growth of the canal area, coupled with inadequate systems for sewage disposal and unlimited discharges of raw sewage directly into its waters, transformed the Canal, a man-made waterway with very limited tidal exchange to open waters, into a polluted, stagnant eyesore.

On June 21, 1911, the Gowanus Flushing Tunnel was built. It contained a propeller that circulated and flushed water in and out of the canal to and from New York Harbor. The flushing tunnel functioned until the mid-1960s when service was suspended due to mechanical failure and, once again, the Canal returned to its polluted state. Since then, repairs to the tunnel were postponed several times due to the City's fiscal crises. Efforts to improve the area's sewage collection and treatment through the construction of the Red Hook Wastewater Treatment plant, which began operating in 1987, did little to solve the canal's odor and pollution problems.

In 1994, DEP undertook a project to reactivate the flushing tunnel, with the expectation that the project would be completed by 1999. The plan called for improving water quality by allowing aerated water from Buttermilk Channel in the East River to be pumped into the head end of the Gowanus canal. The project included:

  • Dredging a portion of the tunnel where sediment had accumulated at the Inlet/Outlet section. Nearly 2,000 cubic yards of dredge material were removed from an area 45 feet by 12 feet directly adjacent to the mouth of the tunnel.
  • Installing a new propeller, motor and sluice gates. Fabrication of the new Flushing Tunnel pumping system included a seven-foot diameter propeller installed to pump water from Buttermilk Channel into the Canal. The pump, which is powered by a 600 horsepower motor, brings Harbor water to the Canal at an average rate of 200 million gallons a day, with a maximum rate of 300 million gallons a day depending on tidal conditions.

Today, the Gowanus Flushing Tunnel operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, bringing fresh oxygenated water into the Canal. In addition, during the first year of the Flushing Tunnel operation, DEP scientists will monitor the quality of the water to ensure it complies with New York State water quality standards.

According to Commissioner Miele, "The reactivation of the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel is yet another step in the City's efforts to improve the infrastructure of the area. It is the City's hope that these improvements to the Canal will continue to serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of the entire community — an area that will be not only more aesthetically pleasing, but environmentally healthy as well."

He added, "On behalf of Mayor Giuliani and all of us at DEP I would like to thank the many community members and community groups who worked so hard to support our project and other improvements to the Gowanus Canal area. We are gratified to have contributed to their efforts to restore the Canal as a valuable local resource. I join with them in hoping that this moment marks the dawning of a brighter future for this community."


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