Just a few years ago, the tributary, known as Paerdegat Basin, was a fetid mess. The water was murky green, teeming with 1.8 billion gallons of sewage and rainwater that streamed in during storms. The working-class neighborhoods along the waterway stank like an outhouse during hot weather and low tide. The shoreline was strewn with rusted out cars, garbage and broken bottles.
The Paerdegat tributary feeds directly into Jamaica Bay, a body of water and marsh sandwiched between Brooklyn and Queens, and on the shores of which sits Kennedy International Airport. Part of the area is run by the city; the other is Gateway National Recreational Area, which contains a wildlife refuge with one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the Northeast.
And now a decade-long $455 million investment by the city to clean up Paerdegat Basin is nearly complete, including a new sewage overflow retention facility at the head of the 1.3-mile-long channel and 52 restored acres of native grasslands and wetlands.
In older cities like New York, sewer systems are built on one pipe that handles both rainwater and sewage. With considerable concrete and not enough exposed earth to absorb rainwater, the combined runoff often overflows and backs into city waterways.