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Stevens Institute of Technology Helps NJ and NYC Maintain Public Health by Tracking Major Sewage Plume in the Hudson River

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SewageThe Stevens Institute supported NY and NJ authorities in responding to a July 2011 sewage spill that began when a 4-alarm fire broke out at NYC's North River Wastewater Treatment Plant, releasing 8 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Hudson River.

The Stevens Institute of Technology, a partner in MARACOOS—the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System, was instrumental in supporting New York and New Jersey authorities as they managed their response to the sewage spill that began on July 20, 2011, when a 4-alarm fire broke out at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant at 135th Street in New York City.

The North River Wastewater Treatment Plant has been in operation for 25 years, treating an average of 120 million gallons of wastewater a day. The fire caused severe damage and the shutdown of the plant, which led to the release of untreated sewage into the Hudson River at 6 release points. According to City officials, the leak of sewage, which started around 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, was stopped 2 days later around 9:30 p.m. in the evening. During this time, it is estimated that nearly 8 million gallons of untreated sewage entered the Hudson River.

With MARACOOS support, the Stevens Institute of Technology was able to track the sewage plume, which spread mostly through the lower Hudson along Manhattan, the Bronx, and New Jersey; but also in smaller amounts to areas around the ocean beaches of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

As a result of the Stevens Institute of Technology’s water quality modeling efforts, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection were in an informed position to decide which beaches to close and when the closures needed to happen to protect public health. State and City officials were able to issue warnings and advisories to avoid consumption of fish caught in the impacted areas as well as to limit recreational activities that would entail possible direct contact with water in these areas. Officials were also able to issue recommendations for alternative beaches to use, which remained open and unaffected by the sewage incident, based on water quality modeling.

Dr. Alan Blumberg, Stevens Institute Professor and the Director of the Center for Maritime Systems said, “Providing real-time data and modeling is critical for decision making. We look forward to continue providing high-quality data and enhancing our products for users and stakeholders in and around our marine and coastal areas.”

The New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS), was established by the Center for Maritime Systems to enable an assessment of ocean, weather, environmental, and vessel traffic conditions throughout the New York Harbor and New Jersey Coast regions. The system is designed to provide knowledge of meteorological and oceanographic conditions both in real-time and forecasted out to 48 hours in the Hudson River, the East River, NY/NJ Estuary, Raritan Bay, Long Island Sound and the coastal waters of New Jersey. The Center for Maritime Systems was also instrumental in the response and rescue operations for US Airways Flight 1549 that ditched into the Hudson River in January 2009, providing a forecast of the conditions in the water that enabled officials and responders to safely rescue passengers on the downed aircraft.

The Stevens Institute of Technology is a member of MARACOOS—a partnership of marine and estuarine data providers and users from state and federal agencies, private industry, non-governmental institutions and academia. The partnership extends throughout the coastal ocean from Massachusetts to North Carolina and coordinates and facilitates ocean observations to support and protect lives and livelihoods using scientific and technologically advanced data collection and dissemination.

For more information on MARACOOS, NYHOPS, the Center for Maritime Systems and the Stevens Institute of Technology, visit www.sentinel.marine.rutgers.edu and www.stevens.edu/maritimeforecast/, or contact Prof. Alan Blumberg (Alan.Blumberg@stevens.edu).