Safer Ways to Kill Weeds

By Eric Swenson, Executive Director

Weeds are not just unsightly plants – they can cause problems such as allergies and can out-compete native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife. But commercial weed killers can also cause serious harm to the environment (including Hempstead Harbor) as well as to human health. This article will provide you with some safer alternatives to killing weeds, much of it based on my own personal experience and experimentation.

The safest and most effective way is to simply pull the weed out of the ground by hand, with a hand trowel, or with any number of other tools designed for weeding. One that I have found useful is a “stand up weeder” which is a tool that looks like a pogo stick with only one pedal and a set of claws at the bottom. You place it over the weed, step on the pedal, and pull up the weed, roots and all. You can find these online.

Manual pulling however, is not practical where you have a large amount of weeds. In that case, there are a number of other methods that work, although not as permanently. You have many choices. These include:

Smothering – cover the weeds with newspapers or black plastic for a week or more until they die. If you use newspapers, you can cover them with mulch and walk away. The newspapers will eventually decompose.

Burning – there are torches that you can attach to a propane tank that you can then use to burn the weeds. It is like a low end flame thrower. It will burn the plants. I no longer use this method because it does not kill the roots so most weeds come back and it is very heavy to carry around a 15 pound propane tank. I also worry about starting a fire. I see that they now make electric versions of weed torches but have not personally tried these.

Boiling Water – for areas like cracks in walkways, carefully pouring boiling water will kill the leaves but not the roots. It is a good, safe, inexpensive short-term solution.

Lemon Juice – like boiling water, spraying lemon juice (such as bottled ReaLemon) will work temporarily. The natural acid, rather than heat, kills the leaves. It may take a day or two for the leaves to die.

Homemade Weed Killer – my favorite method is to make my own weed killer. The basic recipe is simple: 1 gallon of white vinegar + 1 cup of salt + 1 tablespoon of dish detergent. Don’t worry too much about the quantities – as long as all three are there, it will work. You then use a spray bottle or pump sprayer. I use a 4 gallon backpack rechargeable battery-powered sprayer that works better than any other method I have used. This method works best on a sunny day, as the natural acid will burn the plant and the salt will shrivel it up by sundown (the dish soap helps the solution stick to the weeds). You will be amazed at how well it works. Be careful around your flowers, vegetables, or shrubbery as you don’t want to kill them in the process. Most weeds will eventually return so you will need to repeat this process, but that is the same with commercial weed killers. Note that household vinegar is normally a 5% solution. They do sell industrial strength vinegars for lawns and gardens that are 15%, 20% or higher which will be more effective. They too can be found online. I recently bought some concentrate at 75% which needs to be diluted. You must be careful with these as they can seriously burn you. A 20% mix is the concentration that is mostly used by professional landscapers. Another alternative that would increase the effectiveness is to substitute borax for the salt (again use one cup per gallon). Finally, using a biodegradable dish detergent will be even better for the environment.

Using these methods are one easy way that you can help make the world a better place.

Can Seaweed Help Water Quality

Many of us see seaweed as little more than a nuisance (hence its name). But can seaweed help clean our local waterways? A project over the last year in Oyster Bay Harbor seeks to find out.

But first the backstory. Excess nitrogen is one of the major concerns these days for our harbors and bays. Too much can lead to algae blooms, some of which are toxic to humans. Those blooms can also lead to fish kills as the decaying algae use up oxygen in the water. At the same time, and on a larger scale, there is the issue of carbon dioxide emissions. While the oceans take up much of this C02, it also causes a chemical change in the waters’ acidity, which in turn causes a decrease in carbonate ions which many marine species (like shellfish) use to build their shells and skeletons. Worldwide, ocean surface waters have become 30% more acidic over the last 150 years.

Enter Dr. Aaren Freeman, a professor at Adelphi University, a scientist who has been studying kelp for decades. With the help of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, he grew kelp at three locations in Oyster Bay Harbor over the last winter (it only grows here in the winter) – at the Theodore Roosevelt Marina in Oyster Bay, at the Bayville Marina in Mill Neck Creek, and at the Village of Laurel Hollow beach. He is also growing it at other locations on the south shore.

Since marinas are usually empty during the winter, they provide an ideal location, as they need to be harvested before the next boating season.

Kelp, which was native to Long Island waters and once widespread, only exists naturally in a few areas today due to development along the shoreline. He plants it on long lines where it grows rapidly (from 2 millimeters in size to up to 18 feet long by Spring). It is one of the fastest growing plants in the world.

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“I planted the kelp on lines back in December of last year at four sites and it has been growing quite well,” said Dr. Freeman. “The major interruption that the coronavirus caused is figuring out how to sample and harvest the kelp.”

The kelp harvested will be used in a fertilizer study run by Hofstra University in collaboration with the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) and the Town of Hempstead.

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The kelp sequesters nitrogen (70-80 kg/ hectare with lines spaces every 1.5 meters), which can then be used as a fertilizer when dried (which takes 36-48 hours). He has been drying it at the Town of Hempstead’s greenhouse. Students are looking at whether it takes up harmful quantities of heavy metals like arsenic and copper and pathogens like vibrio. For that reason, it is not marketed as a food product here at this point.
In some places, it is also used as a skin care product. Right now there are no markets. He expects to have a report by the end of the year, although that may be extended.

Dr. Freeman is not the only scientist farming and studying kelp for its impact on the environment. At the University of Connecticut, Dr. Charles Yarish has also been doing the same, but on a larger scale. He was even featured on 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl. Dr. Yarish views kelp farms as the equivalent of forests in the water, as they are able to take up a large amount of CO2 as it is needed for their rapid growth. He has been growing shellfish in his kelp beds to see if they can do better at building their shells. The results are not in yet. He is also adding baby mussels on lines suspended in his kelp beds.

The bottom line is that we need to tackle water quality issues like nitrogen from many angles – such as installing state-of-the-art nitrogen reducing septic systems, reducing the amounts of nitrogen in fertilizer, or removing it from the water with kelp, all of us can play a role.

What An Environmental Bond Act Will Mean for NYS

By the NYS League of Conservation Voters

On April 1, 2020, the New York State Legislature included the Environmental Bond Act, also known as the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, in the 2020 – 2021 state budget for a total of $3 billion. 

The Bond Act covers a wide range of environmental protection programs and initiatives including improving existing infrastructure to mitigate flooding, habit restoration, climate change mitigation, and increasing water quality. During the General Election in November, New Yorkers will be able to vote to approve the Bond Act, which would be hugely advantageous for sustainability and resiliency efforts in New York. 

The current breakdown of the programs within the Bond Act are: 

Restoration and Flood Risk Reduction: This goal of this program would be to improve infrastructure and protect vulnerable communities from flooding in the event of increased rates of severe storms. Floodplains and forest are essential natural barriers to mitigate flood risk and must be restored and maintained. Over the next decade, scientists have estimated $50 billion in damages from flooding, so reducing this threat is more important than ever before. 

The total funding is $1 billion, which includes:  

  • Voluntary buyout program: $250 million
  • Shoreline Protection: $100 million
  • Inland Flooding and Local Waterfront Revitalization: $100 million

Open Space Land Conservation and Recreation: Open spaces and recreational areas are essential for New Yorkers to have access to green places within the city. Investing in hatchery improvements and enhancing public sites for recreational fishing is essential in increasing hatchery production. Additionally, this program will assist farmers in becoming more resilient in the face of climate change and help them to reduce their pollution. 

The total funding for this program is $550 million:

  • Fish Hatcheries: $75 million
  • Open Space: $200 million
  • Farmland Protection: $100 million

Climate Change Mitigation: The Bond Act prioritizes the fight against climate change and protecting New York against climate threats. Green buildings are a large component of this as they would reduce carbon emissions, decrease pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and limit energy use. 

The total allocated funding is $700 million:

  • Green Buildings: $350 million.

Water Quality Improvement and Resilient Infrastructure: Improving water quality and municipal stormwater systems will safeguard communities by increasing access to clean water and reduce public health risks. Every New Yorker deserves clean, drinkable water and this program will ensure that enhanced infrastructure reduces runoff from storms and controls any contamination.  

This program is funded at $550 million:

  • Water Infrastructure improvement act projects: $200 million
  • Municipal Stormwater: $200 million.

Other projects: Another $200 million has been allocated for a variety of other environmental initiatives that will work in conjunction and expand upon the programs outlined above. 

The Bond Act is a crucial piece of legislation for New York that encompasses many essential environmental programs. Together, these initiatives will reduce flood risk, increase public access to green spaces, improve fish hatcheries, help farmers, mitigate climate change, and improve water quality. 

Drones with Infrared Cameras Can Help Us Find Illicit Discharges

By Eric Swenson, Executive Director

One important aspect of keeping our harbors clean is to stop “illicit discharges”.  But first you need to find them.  One promising technology that is coming into its own is the use of drones with infrared “thermal imaging” cameras that can identify such discharges by detecting slight increases in temperature.  Since municipalities are required under their NYS stormwater permits (“MS4 permits”) to have a program to identify and eliminate illicit discharges, this technology may offer a valuable tool in their toolboxes.

Earlier this month, the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District awarded funds to Friends of the Bay in Oyster Bay to undertake such a project in Oyster Bay, Cold Spring Harbor, and Mill Neck Creek. Partners in the project are the Oyster Bay / Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, Walden Associates, and Harkin Aerial. 

Since illicit discharges from manmade sources typically emit more thermal energy (heat) than the surrounding water or soil they are discharged into, and since heat rises, modern day infrared cameras can detect these relative changes in surface temperature with a sensitivity up to 0.1 degrees F.  When mounted to a drone, a set of thermal images can be taken covering about 50 acres in under an hour.  Experience shows that the best time of day to do this is early to mid-morning when the temperature difference is greatest (before the sun heats up the land and water).

The drones also have a “regular” camera that can take simultaneous photos so that any “hot spots” found can be more easily located. The drone also logs GPS data. Particularly important to the process is the use of people trained and experienced in interpreting the photos as there can be false positives.

Walden Associates and Harkin Aerial, both based in Oyster Bay, have been pioneers in this technology.  In 2018, they conducted a study in the Village of New Paltz. Their work identified illicit discharges from residential sump pumps, leaking sewer main valves, discharges into fields and farmland, and outfalls into the Wallkill River.  

Locally, they will focus on the area around the Village of Laurel Hollow’s beach which has been frequently closed due to high bacterial levels; the Mill Neck Creek subwatershed area in the vicinity of Bayville’s “Stands” area where illicit discharges are suspected, and the subwatershed area around the Town of Oyster Bay’s Beekman Beach which also has experienced high bacteria levels.

This project is believed to be the first of its kind on Long Island.  If successful, this may also help us in Hempstead Harbor.

A Corona Virus / Earth Day 50 Reboot

By Eric Swenson, Executive Director, Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee

Fifty years ago, as part of the first Earth Day, I and fellow students tied ropes to a VW Beetle and pulled it from Locust Valley village to the high school.  I guess we wanted to show that you didn’t need to use polluting fossil fuels. Classes were suspended for the day and environmental workshops were held instead. It was an event that rebooted the nation and now protecting the environment is a multi-billion dollar industry. It was partly why I am doing what I do today.

As we reflect on that monumental anniversary, we are now faced with another event that is rebooting our society – the Covid-19 pandemic.  Ironically, the worldwide shut down of nonessential businesses has also cleaned our skies and waters just in time for this event. Smog has cleared over northern Inda, China, and even the US. In Venice, you can now see to the bottom of canals. Without humans to bother them, pandas in the Hong Kong zoo have mated for the first time in 10 years. Nature has a chance to breathe again, at least temporarily. Lesson #1: nature will heal itself if we give it a chance.

Just as society learned a good lesson from that first Earth Day, let’s turn the mandated pause of the pandemic into a new beginning.

Just look at how fast this virus spread around the globe.  In a few short months, it has spread to virtually the entire planet and as of April 13th, 1.8 million people have been infected and over 114,000 have died. Lesson #2: what we do to our environment here soon impacts the entire planet. 

Excess fertilizer can runoff into stormdrains and into Hempstead Harbor and cause algae blooms.  Do you really need to fertilize? Cornell Cooperative Extension (the experts) say that if you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, there is no need to fertilize an established lawn.  After all, grass has existed for millions of years before the advent of commercial fertilizer.  Do you really need those “flushable wipes” that never should be flused anyway?  Humans survived for hundreds of thousands of years before their advent. You can too.

We’ve suddenly become acquainted with Zoom and other teleconference programs where we can now meet and talk without every attendee getting into fossil fuel-guzzlers to sit around a table to do the same thing.  Let’s use that as much as we can.  It will give us more free time to tend to our organic vegetable gardens that will also save us trips to the supermarket and, as a bonus, give us a little immune-boosting Vitamin D while we get some exercise in the sunshine.

Being confined at home has brought many of us out on long walks.  Keep it up. Walk down by the water. The Town of North Hempstead recently expanded its harbor trail. There is also a nice new trail from the middle of Roslyn village on the east side of the harbor. Reconnect with nature.  We’ve also had more time to read. Keep that up too.  

If nothing else, the rapid spread of this virus should bring home the need for combating climate change.  CO2 spreads just as quickly and is causing severe weather changes, warming our waters, and causing sea level rise.  Lesson #3: yust as this virus is only contained when every one of us practices social distancing and temporarily shelters in place, combating climate change requires all of us to do our part – it is not simply government’s job, or industry’s job.  In the spirit of the first Earth Day, let’s make a new commitment to do our part for the Earth.

Emerging Contaminants – Should We Worry?

When the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee was founded in 1995 to protect the water quality of Hempstead Harbor, the main concerns were bacteria levels and excess nitrogen as these could respectively cause beaches to close and lead to low dissolved oxygen levels that could harm wildlife and cause algae blooms.

While these remain issues of concern, we now have other pollutants to worry about which are referred to as “emerging contaminants”. Of the emerging chemicals, the main focus now is on 1,4-Dioxane and Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (collectively known as “PFAS”) as these are being found virtually everywhere. This article will provide a basic overview of these substances.

1-4-Dioxane

1,4-Dioxane is an emerging contaminant found in Long Island’s groundwater (which ultimately flows to our waterbodies). It is a synthetic organic compound not found in nature. 1,4-Dioxane is listed as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” and has been linked to tumors of the liver, kidneys, and nasal cavity. 

Originally,1,4-dioxane was used as an industrial solvent stabilizer and found widely in paints, primers, varnishes, degreasers, and inks. Although it has been phased out of use in some of these applications, many still contain it. 1,4-Dioxane does not easily degrade or break down in the environment and is highly mobile in soil and groundwater.

Perhaps of greater concern is that 1,4-Dioxane is also found in nearly halfof personal care products, including laundry detergents, dishwashing soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, deodorants, and body lotions, including baby wipes and baby shampoos. It exists in these products, not as an ingredient itself, but as a byproduct of the breakdown of their ingredients. Because of this, you will not see it listed as an ingredient on the labels. To know if a product is likely to contain it, look for the names of ingredients which include 

“-eth” or “-oxynol” in part of their names, such as “sodium laurethsulfate.” 

Some laundry detergents have been found to have the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane of any consumer products, with levels over 50 parts per million, a concentration equivalent to over 100,000 times the EPA’s Cancer Risk Guideline for drinking water. Because of this, laundromats are a potential sources of 1,4-dioxane contamination. 

Currently there is no federal drinking water standard specifically for 1,4-dioxane. On July 8, 2019, Governor Cuomo announced that the NYS Department of Health agreed to adopt the nation’s most stringent drinking water standard for 1,4-Dioxane as well as for PFAS – 10 parts per trillion (US EPA’s guidance level is set at 70 parts per trillion). The Health Department is beginning the regulatory process for adopting these enforceable standards. Also, in February of this year, the NYS DEC issued a memorandum requiring review and/or testing of groundwater at current and past remedial sites for these contaminants. In addition, soil imported to a site for use in a soil cap, soil cover, or as backfill must be sampled for both types of contaminants.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is piloting a new system for the removal of 1,4-dioxane from drinking water. Conventional carbon based filtration systems do not adequately remove 1,4-dioxane. This new pilot system utilizes a process known as advanced oxidation. Smaller trials using advanced oxidation have demonstrated success in removing the chemical.

PFAS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA and PFOS, and others. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. They have been manufactured since the 1940s and 

can be found in food packaging, water-repellent fabrics (such as Gore-Tex), non-stick coatings (such as Teflon), fire-fighting foams, and even food (such as animals and fish that have consumed them).

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and 

apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.

Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. The most-studied PFAS chemicals are PFOA and PFOS. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS). The US EPA has determined that there is “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential” for PFOA.

On July 8th, the Governor also announced the that $370 million in grants will fund the planning and development of new local infrastructure projects to combat emerging contaminants (including $30,000 to the Roslyn Water District for 1,4-dioxane treatment planning). In addition, $27 million was awarded to nine Long Island projects to remove emerging contaminants from drinking water (including the nearby Oyster Bay Water District).  While this sounds like a lot, it is only the beginning of a long and expensive process to protect us from these ingredients. Until these contaminants are fully removed from all products, your purchasing decisions as a consumer can certainly help keep our waters clean and your family healthy.

Now is the Time to Address NYS Wastewater Infrastructure Improvements and Funding

Throughout New York State and across the nation, the very infrastructure that keeps our society functioning (such as roads, bridges, drinking water systems, wastewater systems, and transit systems) is in trouble. 

Soon you may start hearing more about proposed Federal infrastructure funding as Congress gets around to this issue. It is important that any such legislation adequately address wastewater in a way that local governments can take advantage of.

In 2017, the New York State chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers released a “report card” for the state’s infrastructure (covering 9 types of systems) and based on eight critical criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Overall, the state’s average grade was a “C-“.  The worst score was for given to wastewater (i.e. sewage) systems. It scored a “D”. 

This article will primarily focus on New York State’s wastewater infrastructure needs and on recent proposals from the White House for dealing with infrastructure needs. 

The information for this article was gathered from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Center for Watershed Protection, the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Environmental Finance Center, and the White House’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. 

Across New York State, 610 small and large wastewater treatment facilities serve 1,610 municipalities. These facilities, which collectively serve 15 million people, are dedicated to keeping water clean and safe and range in size from New York City’s facilities that process 1.3 billion gallons a day to small village systems that handle less than 100,000 gallons a day. The only wastewater treatment facility on Hempstead Harbor is Nassau County’s Glen Cove Wastewater Treatment Facility, which currently handles 3 million gallons a day and has a capacity to handle up to 5.5 million gallons a day.

Aging infrastructure has become a critical problem for the state – 1 in every 4 of the state’s wastewater facilities are operating beyond their 30-year useful life expectancy, wastewater treatment plant equipment also averages 30+ years old, and 30% of the 22,000 underground miles of sewers are 60+ years old and operating beyond their useful lives. To repair, replace, and update New York’s wastewater infrastructure would cost $36.2 billion over 20 years. New York’s wastewater funding program is simply insufficient to drive even half of the reinvestment needed in infrastructure; for every dollar needed only 20 cents is provided to clean New York’s water. 

The Glen Cove wastewater plant has been upgraded over the years and is considered state-of-the-art but some of the sewer lines and pumping stations that convey sewage to the facility are aging just like other systems around the state.

While these wastewater plants in New York are currently meeting baseline technology limits, a growing number may no longer meet these standards as their infrastructure ages beyond its expected useful life. According to a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) survey there are 22,000 miles of sewers, more than 30% of which are more than 60 years old and beyond their expected useful life. In addition, 25% of New York’s wastewater facilities are operating beyond their 30-year useful life expectancy.

The cost of repairing, replacing, and updating this wastewater infrastructure is conservatively estimated to be $36.2 billion over the next 20 years. In the past, the federal and state governments provided significant funding for infrastructure repair and replacement, but this is no longer true today. In the 1990s, the federal Construction Grants Program was replaced by a low-interest loan Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program, which requires locals to match federal investments making it harder for many communities to address their infrastructure needs. 

From the Fund’s inception through 2012, the CWSRF financed over 1,550 projects totaling over $12.5 billion, using a total subsidy of over $2.2 billion. While New York’s CWSRF program has been very well-managed and continues to provide necessary funding for municipalities, the funding mechanism is simply insufficient to drive even half of the reinvestment needed in infrastructure. For example, in 2013, only $1.4 billion of the $6.6 billion in identified needs were funded which means for every dollar needed only 20 cents was provided to clean New York’s water. 

The White House’s “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” which was released early this year, outlines the President’s proposed steps to encourage increased state, local, and private investment in infrastructure. While the plan outlines programs for all types of infrastructure, this blog post provides a quick overview of the four proposed programs with relevance to water infrastructure.

While the White House’s Infrastructure plan proposes a significant influx of federal funds, these programs seek to attract non-federal revenue streams, encourage innovation, and increase involvement from the private sector.

A key principle of the plan is to encourage states, tribes, and localities to “move towards a model of independence” from the federal government. As such, while the proposed programs would make federal funds available, they also require significant investment at the local level. In New York State, tax caps on municipal budgets (which the legislature is proposing to make permanent) may pose a significant barrier to the ability of municipalities to take advantage of these funds. 

Water infrastructure (including drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities) are identified as eligible infrastructure projects in four of the proposed programs. These are:

  1. Incentives Program 
  2. Rural Infrastructure Program
  3. Transformative Projects Program
  4. Expansions to Existing Programs (WIFIA and CWSRF)

Incentives Program

The Incentives Program would include $100 Billion and administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT), US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and

is designed to use grants to encourage increased state, local, and private investment in infrastructure. The goals of the program are to attract significant new, non-Federal revenue streams, leverage Federal investments, and increase economic growth. Incentive Grants would not exceed 20% of new revenue, and the recipient would be required to achieve milestones toward obtaining increased revenue prior to receiving the grant award.

Rural Infrastructure Program

The Rural Infrastructure Program would provide $50 Billion of targeted investment into rural communities where it is needed to grow economies and enhance the health and safety of residents. 80% of the funds would be provided to each state to be distributed as block grants. 20% of the funds would be reserved for rural performance grants (areas in rural areas with populations of less than 50,000). In order to apply, a state would be required to create a comprehensive Rural Infrastructure Investment Plan that details how the intended projects leverage state, local, and private sector investment.

Transformative Projects Program

The Transformative Projects Program would allocate $20 Billion to be administered by the Department of Commerce, in partnership with other federal agencies. It is meant to encourage “bold, innovative, and transformative infrastructure projects that could dramatically improve infrastructure”. The program is intended to support projects that are capable of generating revenue and provide significant public benefits, but that carry risks that would typically deter private sector investment.  This program could be used for projects that improve performance, reduce user costs or introduce new types of services. Clean water and drinking water projects would be eligible.

Funding would be available under 3 tracks: demonstration (30% of eligible costs), project planning (50% of eligible costs), and capital construction (80% of eligible costs). The program would also provide federal technical assistance under any of the tracks.

Adjustments to Existing Water Infrastructure Programs

In addition, increased funding would go to existing federal programs including the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CSWRF).

Expansion of WIFIA would remove the current lending limit of $3.2 billion and would also eliminate the requirement for borrowers to be community water systems. It would also reduce the requirement to obtain rating agency opinions from two to one and allow for reimbursement of costs incurred prior to the loan closing. Expansion of the CWSRF would make funding available for privately owned public-purpose projects (currently, only publicly owned treatment works are eligible).

For more details, see:

https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/NY_ReportCard_FullReport_9.29.15_FINAL.pdf

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/INFRASTRUCTURE-211.pdf

Army Corps Announcement About Tidal Gate Study

THIS WAS RECEIVED IN AN E-MAIL ON JANUARY 31, 2019

Dear NYNJHAT Study Stakeholders,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments sent during the extended Scoping Period for the NYNJHAT Study this past year. Responses to your comments will be shared in the Public Engagement Appendix to the Interim Report that the NYNJHAT Study team is preparing for release on February 19, 2019. This Interim Report is being provided to share these responses as well as study information that has been collected and analyzed on the various conceptual alternatives under evaluation in the study.  This report is not required by Corps policy or regulation, nor is it identified as a an agency decision document, but rather is intended to share interim study information as the Corps, in partnership with the States of New York and New Jersey as well as the City of New York, work towards identifying the tentatively selected plan early in 2020. 

During the Scoping Period the public expressed eagerness to learn more about the Study, including how the alternative concepts could address the substantial and pervasive coastal flooding problems that face this vast region, including sea level rise, and a desire for the public to meaningfully engage in the study before decisions were made. In order to facilitate this, the study team will release this Interim Report and hold a series of Public Information Meetings throughout the study area associated with it. 

Additionally, we have updated our website (new shorter URL: www.nan.usace.army.mil/NYNJHATS) with more information to answer some of the common questions received. Information about the Corps’ project, coastal storm risks facing this region (including those from sea level rise), and how the alternative concepts address these ambient, frequent and infrequent coastal flooding risks is available on the website and discussed in more detail in the Interim Report.  On or soon after February 19, 2019, this Interim Report will be available via this website.

The Corps welcomes any input you may wish to provide related to this study as detailed in the Interim Report. There is no comment period or deadline for providing feedback.  However, comments received earlier (e.g., within two weeks of our last planned public meeting, the end April) will be of most value in helping to guide future analysis as we work towards identifying the tentatively selected plan.  As always, should you have comments or thoughts on this study later in the year, we welcome those comments then as well.  Given the great concern and interest in this study, our team plans to exchange information more frequently via the website, social media and public meetings through this year and future years of the study.

Full text of press release is below.
Thank you,The NYNJHAT Study Team

Press Release (below)-January 15, 2019

Army Corps Announces Release of Interim Report for New York and New Jersey Harbor & Tributaries Study

NEW YORK – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, is releasing an Interim Report for the NY & NJ Harbor and Tributaries Study on February 19, 2019.  State and city partners that contributed input on the interim report include the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the City of New York.

Historical storms have severely impacted the New York-New Jersey Harbor region. In response to these storms, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating measures to manage future coastal flood risk in ways that support the long-term resilience and sustainability of the coastal ecosystem and surrounding communities, and reduce the economic costs and risks associated with flood and storm events. The study team has prepared an Interim Report to present an array of alternative concepts, based on USACE technical analyses conducted up through 2018, along with preliminary costs, benefits and environmental considerations, and to identify data gaps, key uncertainties, and factors that warrant further investigation because of their potential to affect plan selection.  

The concepts discussed in the Interim Report will include consideration of adaptation strategies for a range of future sea level rise projections, to ensure long-term resiliency in the face of uncertain future conditions.  As required by Council on Environmental Quality’s Principles, Requirements and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies, all reasonable alternatives that meet the purpose and need will be considered.  Public and agency feedback on the Interim Report will inform the next round of investigations and modeling needed to identify a Tentatively Selected Plan for the upcoming Draft Feasibility Report and Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement. 

Opportunities for the public to engage in the study process will include public meetings in March and April of 2019 throughout the study area.  
You may find additional information about this study at the project website:www.nan.usace.army.mil/NYNJHATSCLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED

Proposed Giant Tidal Gates by the Throgs Neck Bridge and their Impact on the North Shore

On February 19th, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an interim report that will lay out their conceptual plans for protecting New York City from future major storms. This will be followed by public meetings (yet to be announced) in March and April. This article will bring you up to speed on what we know so far.

Late last Summer / early Fall, we learned that the Army Corps of Engineers was proposing a number of alternatives which included the construction of massive tidal gates by the Throgs Neck Bridge, which when closed, would raise water levels behind the gates (called “induced flooding”). Despite the potential for this impact on north shore communities, no hearings or public meetings had been scheduled on the north shore. That changed when we contacted Rep. Tom Suozzi who in turn convinced the Army Corps to hold a public meeting at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on October 23rd.

At that meeting, the Army Corps committed to studying the impact of the induced flooding on our communities and to hold future meetings in our area. The extent of their study into induced flooding was not clearly defined. We are hoping that it will be in the upcoming report.

The following is a synopsis of the October 23rd public meeting. It was prepared from notes taken by Sarah Deonarine of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee and Eric Swenson of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee.

Rep. Tom Suozzi pointed out that following nitrogen, the top concern voiced at last year’s L.I. Sound Summit was sea level rise. Flooding is a real concern for north shore communities. 

The Army Corps’ Bryce Wisemiller then pointed out that post-Sandy, the Corps completed aNorth Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study,which identified focus areas for further study. The New York and New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries (NY NJ HATS) is the largest of the focus area studies; it covers 2,150 square miles, 900 miles of shoreline, 25 counties, and 16 million people. Because the study area is so large, the Corps has two non-federal partners (they always have to have one): NJ DEP and NY DEC.  And New York City is a “major player.” Without the protections envisioned in this study, a 100-year storm, 227,000 structures would be impaired and 300 square miles would be flooded.

The Corps emphasized that this is just the beginning of the process and that they want to study and collect information from others.  They have concept plans developed for the alternatives based on best guesses and assumptions but are still looking for public comment and input. They requested that audience members send them any information that they may not have.

Presentation: 

The Corps’ presentation started with a map that shows only the fatalities from Sandy, because those are “the resource that cannot be replaced.”

The Corps started with definitions and explaining their process: “Coastal Storm Risk Management (CSRM)” – it’s risk management, not flood control.  No matter how high the wall is, it will be overtopped eventually. They can reduce the number of flooding, divert water, store the water, stop the water with a localized measure – structural.  Non-structural is when we don’t change the way it floods, but try to get structures and people out of harm’s way (elevating houses, flood-proofing, buy-outs, etc.) – not changing the flooding regime (non-structural).  

The Corps has 6-step iterative planning process.  Evaluate alternatives:  has to be environmentally acceptable, cost has to be less than the gains. The Corp’s revised schedule is based on receiving a waiver to their “3x3x3” rule (studies must be completed within 3 years, cost no more than $3 million, and involve no more than 3 tiers of administration): 

Schedule:

o   January 2019 – “Interim Report” (not any sort of statutorily required document, but will include summaries of their work thus far, and will respond to all scoping comments received by 11/5/18) – concept plan/mock-up

o   Spring 2020 – Draft EIS and Feasibility Study (here they will narrow down the alternatives – as opposed to the original plan to narrow down this fall before the Draft EIS)

o   Comments can be taken on the Interim Report and the Draft EIS/Feasibility Study

o   There will be some sort of outreach event(s) after the Jan. 2019 Interim Report and after the Spring 2020 deadline – Corps does not know what format yet

o   The Corps recently added CT stakeholders to its mailing list on the project.  Stakeholder outreach list is over 3,000 and growing.

Alternatives: 

There are six alternatives. #s 2 – 4 are in-water structures. #5 is land-based structures. All alternatives are designed for a 100-year storm with increases for wave action:

1– baseline/ no action alternative (note: they will show what others are doing including other Army Corps projects in the study area).

2 & 3ais for a surge barrier just west of the Throgs Neck bridge.  Planning to the 1% storm event (in 100 years, the 1% storm would be one in 10 years).  Alternative 2 has the largest number of surge gates.  They referred to the “Study Area Proper.” This also included surge gates closing off NY Harbor from Sandy Hook NJ to the Rockaways.

3a– tide gates go further back into the estuaries.  Surge gates are very expensive.

3b – does not have as many surge gates.

3b & 4are very similar, the differences are on Staten Island and NJ

5– only on-land based measures (sea walls along the shoreline, etc.)

Storm risk gets worse for the Atlantic Ocean areas as next 100 years pass (worse than for the north shore).  Being designed to 100 year event + mid-level SLR projection + wave run-up

Surge barrier examples from around the world:  

  • Surge gate in Louisiana was $3B
  • Thames River in London, structures on the bottom rotate up, they don’t get much wave action, so it works there.  
  • Largest moving structure in the world is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  Sector gate comes out from the land and is sunk down.
  • As the surge gates won’t be closed for every event, high frequency events may impact areas behind a surge barrier.

Nothing is easy, given the urbanization and the coastal storm risk in the area.

NEPA Process:

They will be doing a tiered environmental impact statement (EIS), the most robust NEPA analysis. Because of the size and complexity, they will consider environmental impacts at every stage, but won’t be as in-depth until they get further along in the process.  During the feasibility study phase (conceptual), will have a Tier 1 EIS.  Then tier 2 based on more detailed designs, etc.

No plan can be constructed until permits are in place, and they can’t get permits until EIS is completed.  There will be lots of public input through this long process.  At the end of the process, a Chief’s Report will be prepared which will then be sent to Congress. Congress then decides what will happen based on the Corps reports and if the non-federal sponsors agree (New York, New Jersey and NYC). There was no mention of Connecticut. Congress has to authorize the project and fund it, which alone is probably a multi-year process.  On the current scheduled, they anticipate making a recommendation to Congress in Summer 2022. Construction may not begin until the 2030s.

Public comments on this study are due by November 5th.

Question & Answer Take-aways:

Army Corps is very concerned about “induced flooding” behind the barriers (i.e. the north shore). Induced flooding would have to be dealt with as part of that alternative – all impacts have to be mitigated.  This could shut-down an alternative.

The January report will only present information they have, no decisions/selections will happen at that time.  Right now they are throwing out a lot of assumptions and best guesses. Developed a general cost and benefit that they created, will be in the January report.  As they go through the process, these will change.

Modeling of impacts outside the alternatives will be done for each alternative.  Reflection of waves on gates is part of modeling analysis that will have to be done in the future.

Storms send surge a couple days before the storm hits, so the surge gate would be closed a day before that.  Transportation and navigation already stop for big storms, but the details for protocols have not been worked out yet.

Saddle Rock’s Mayor stated that they’ve had four 100-year storms in the past 5 years:  Irene, Sandy, something else, and the March Nor’easter. He felt that adding induced flooding on top of this could devastate his village and that places like Bayville would “become a sump”.

FEMA money has not been considered, they only identified those projects authorized shortly after Sandy.  If there needs to be a look at specific areas, that would come through non-federal partners.  ßThis was Sarah Deonarine’s (Manhasset Bay Protection Committee’s) question, she was attempting to get at the point that their alternatives would counteract federal money being spent in Manhasset Bay.

Explain the waiver to the “3by3by3” rule:  the schedule is assuming that there is a waiver. The Corps has a motto that a project has to be done within 3 years, $3m, and 3 levels within vertical team.  This process in this area is going to exceed these restrictions.  HQ is supporting the waiver to go through, but want to make sure that there are “checks” along the way.  The waiver still needs Secretary’s approval.

Did you consider other alternatives, would you consider other alternatives?  Other alternatives were considered and will be included in the iterative process, especially if there are other ideas suggested.  Right now, they’ve just been focused on the 6 shown here and studies done prior to this.  If anyone has ideas/suggestions, send them in. 

Eric Swenson (Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee) asked how far east the Corps would study in terms of induced flooding. They did not give a direct answer.

The January 2019 draft is just to say “what we’ve been doing,” and is part of being transparent.  The report will consolidate all the information they have now and the alternatives they have looked at to display what they’ve done, and identify what additional information is needed.  They acknowledge that this information is going to have to be followed up.  Spring of 2020 should be the draft report and EIS.

The study alone may cost up to $19M and take up to 6 years [half federal money, half non-federal money (NJ &NY)].

They are considering establishing a steering committee to help with outreach as well as a technical advisory group. It was pointed out that the Long Island Sound Study already has a Citizens Advisory Committee and a Technical Advisory Committee, and both are comprised of stakeholders from around Long Island Sound. They stated that they would consider using them.

Eric Swenson (Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee) also asked if the study would consider and comply with the recommendations in the Long Island Sound Study Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. They said that they would.

One person stated that the depth of the water at the Throgs Neck Bridge is 100 feet and asked if the tidal gates would be that tall. The Corps stated that the area where the gates would be installed is not that deep but they could not give the actual depth. The gates would have to be as deep as the water.

The Corps also stated that Long Island would be included in future public meetings. 

Here is a direct link to the Army Corps slides shown at the presentationhttp://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Portals/37/docs/civilworks/projects/ny/coast/NYNJHAT/NYNJHAT%20NEPA%20Scoping%20Presentation%203%20Oct%2018.pdf?ver=2018-10-12-151150-907

Stay tuned….

Ocean Acidification – What It Is, How It Affects Us, and What Can Be Done?

You may think that “ocean acidification” has little direct connection to our local bays and harbors. The truth is that its impacts are greatest in shallow coastal waters.

Ocean Acidification (a lowering of the pH in our waters caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere) causes, among other things, less calcium carbonate in the water that shellfish larvae and others require to grow their shells. After spending years improving our water quality and re-opening 2,500 acres to shellfishing for the first time in 45 years, this is obviously a concern in Hempstead Harbor.

Last night, the NYS Ocean Acidification Task Force held its second meeting – this time in Nassau County.  Three very interesting presentations were made, which are summarized below.

Dr. Chris Gobler (Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS))

  • Latest CO2 reading – 1/11/19 is at 409.44 ppm (400.0 was deemed to be the threshold).
  • CO2 levels are increasing faster than originally predicted
  • Calcifying organisms are vulnerable (shellfish, etc.)
  • 2012 – most of NYSs fisheries are calcifying organisms
  • Larval stages are most susceptible. When they are born, they have no shell and need to extract calcium from the water in order to grow them.
  • Before the industrial revolution, CO2 levels were 250 ppm.
  • Above 390 ppm affects shellfish.
  • It does not just affect survival rates, but also growth rates.
  • Fish are also sensitive to Ocean Acidification (OA). Larval fish do not survive as well.
  • The same processes that lead to hypoxia (nutrient loading) will also lead to increased acidification.
  • We see more severe OA in coastal waters than in the ocean.
  • It is seasonal – Spring to Summer is highest.
  • In summer of 2014, the western LIS was actually acidic (below pH 7.0). 8.0 is normal.
  • Where you have low dissolved oxygen (DO), you have high OA.
  • During nighttime, DO is lower and OA increases, particularly in shallow estuaries.
  • About 5 years ago, almost nothing was known about the connection between low O2 and OA.
  • In one experiment juvenile clams were able to grow with low oxygen. They also did alright with low pH. But when both are combined, their growth was slowed. In the real world, you have both together.
  • Multi-trophic aquaculture – growing seaweeds and shellfish together can help.
  • NYS does not regulate for pH – only DO.
  • Growth of seaweeds can be detrimental to sea grasses but a help to shellfish.
  • Where there is high CO2, sea grasses may benefit if there are no seaweeds growing.
  • Macroalgae take CO2 out of the water.  This is based on lab experiments. Then you’d need to harvest it. Kelp is one viable option.
  • Carbonate goes down as pH goes up. You have to also measure alkalinity or DO when you measure pH.

Kyle Rabin (Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, Long Island Regional Planning Council)

  • The Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) is a multi-year initiative to reduce nitrogen in surface waters and groundwater. Partnership between DEC, LIRPC, and two counties.
  • They have monthly conference calls for updates and coordination.
  • Workgroups have been formed to address specific aspects (e.g. fertilizer).
  • Part of their mission is to assess nitrogen levels, determine sources, and ID reduction targets.
  • The NYS Ocean Acidification Task Force (OATF) and LINAP compliment each other.
  • Suffolk’s initiatives:
    • Subwatersheds wastewater plan
    • Septic system improvement plan
    • Septic / Cesspool Upgrade Program Enterprise – up to $20,000 is available to each homeowner
    • Sanitary Code changes
    • Sewering projects – including SC Coastal Resiliency Initiative – eliminating cesspools in sensitive areas. Public referenda are being held in 3 areas today.
    • Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan – created in 2017. Still being developed.
  • Nassau’s initiatives:
    • Subwatersheds planning – SoMAS is working on it using the same methodology as Suffolk.
    • South Shore Water Reclamation Facility (Bay Park WWTP) upgrades
    • South Shore Water Reclamation Effluent Diversion Project (19 Billion gallons a year of sewage will no longer be discharged to the Western Bays).
    • Long Beach Wastewater Diversion to Bay Park
    • Point Lookout Sewer Study
    • Septic Improvement Program
      • 60,000 septic systems on north shore
  • Suffolk County Water Quality Improvement District Study – looking at establishing it. RPF has been released.
  • LINAP Fertilizer Management Workgroup – recommendations are being finalized. Apply to homeowners and professional landscapers. Will be published in LINAP newsletter.
  • South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER) Western Bays Water Quality Monitoring – about to begin. Using a university. 
  • STEM Challenge – Grades 6-8. LI Water Quality Challenge – stormwater treatment or low impact landscaping
  • Nutrient Bioextraction Initiative – seaweed and shellfish aquiculture to remove nitrogen in coastal waters. NYC DEP is looking to use ribbed mussels for this purpose as they are not susceptible to poaching from uncertified waters.
  • Nitrogen Smart Communities – municipalities need to meet certain goals. Will be a pilot project
  • Water Reuse Advisory Workgroup – workgroup was established. Roadmap produced. Golf Course irrigation being looked at.
  • LI Water Quality Data Sharing System – one stop location for all data. Being developed. Over 60 entities collect data on LI.
  • Outreach – monthly newsletter with 1,700 subscribers. 
  • https://lirpc.org/linap/2087/
  • https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/103654.html
  • He would be glad to talk to the Protection Committees about their initiatives.

Dr. Frank Roethel (SoMAS)

  • OA has long been known in lakes and streams.
  • In some areas, they pump lime slurries into the waterbodies to reduce acidification.
  • Lime has benefits for lakes – inexpensive, available, non-toxic, natural mineral, easy to distribute, dissolves in water.
  • Very few studies on marine water. 
  • We have 14 WWTPs and Power Plants that all have discharges to marine waters. You could use them.
  • New commercial construction in NYC – stormwater management designs.  Stormwater is directed to large holding tanks and eventually discharged. These could also be used.
  • East River and west side of Jamaica Bay are two of the worst areas. There are major facilities that discharge about 1+ billion gallons a day into these areas. 
  • Highly alkaline liquids – sodium hydroxide – readily available, easy to integrate into existing systems, highly corrosive
  • Highly alkaline solids – lime – available as a waste product of scrubber residual from Waste to Energy facilities and coal fired plants – currently disposal costs on LI = $60 per ton.
  • This could reduce the rate of acidification.
  • To halt the increase in acidification – requires new technology and investment.
  • To reduce acidification – not achievable in our lifetime.
  • Estimate the amount of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) (ph 13) needed to affect pH – Assuming effluent is currently1 billion liters at pH 6 and if the goal is to raise the pH to 7, you would need to add 900 liters (=240 gallons).  Is NsOH too corrosive for wastewater treatment plant workers to handle?
  • If you use the same calculation and extrapolate to all NYC WWTP plants, you would need about 900 gallons per day. 
  • Other potential strategies:
    • Portland cement manufacturing 
      • Portland cement is major contributor of CO2 emissions in the US and worldwide (7% of all C02)
      • 90 million tons of Portland cement is produced in US / year
      • In NY we use 3 million tons / year of Portland cement
      • 1 ton of Portland cement produces 1 ton of CO2
      • There are substitutes for Portland Cement
        • Pulverized glass – has same pozzolanic properties as Portland cement
          • Supports glass recycling
          • Saves landfill space
          • Replacement of a percentage of Portland cement can result in CO2 reduction
          • Encourages sustainable construction
          • We don’t know yet how durable it will be as compared with concrete over the long term.
          • If there is an expanded bottle bill, perhaps some of those nickels can be directed to exploring this.
    • Shell grinding
      • cost effective
      • no adverse impacts
      • whole shells promote regrowth
      • dissolution is a function of particle size
      • optimal grain size would be a function of local conditions.
    • Reduce use of chlorine as a sewage treatment plant disinfectant
    • De-chlorination before discharge
    • Sediment modification (put clean sand or crushed concrete or crushed glass on top of sediments)
    • Enhancing marine vegetation
  • Moving forward, we need more research and demonstration projects and legislation as well as partnerships with industry.