Fracture Critical Sewershed – part II

Thanks to the NYtimes, there are pics from inside the fired damaged ‘engine room’ at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant/Riverbank State Park.

Ignoring the pyrographic aspects of the pics, they illustrate the brute force engineering solutions that our society has relied on for too long. Complex engineering of systems tends to create systems that are fracture critical, the space shuttle is a prime example, as cost (and other design factors) prohibits redundancy and resilience. In contrast,  ecological systems of sufficient  biodiversity have the amazing ability to keep on going and to regenerate itself after a disturbance. Unlike engineering, as ecological systems get more complex, they gain in resilience.


Fracture Critical Sewageshed – Part I is here.


Fracture Critical Sewershed

There was a four-alarm fire last week at one of my favorite examples of multifunctional infrastructure: NYC’s North River Wastewater Treatment Plant/Riverbank State Park. The fire damaged five engines that power the pumps that circulate the sewage, through the treatment process, so 120 million gallons of untreated sewage are being dumped into the Hudson and Bronx Rivers till the plant is back up and running. The plant serves a sewershed of 6,030 acres, home to almost 600,000 folks.

Because NYC has a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system, the untreated sewage was discharged from 56 outfalls. If NYC had a more modern seperate storm sewer and sanitary sewer system, the untreated discharge would have been concentrated just at the plant creating a more severe local impact. This is one of those rare cases where having an obsolete CSO infrastructure may be reducing the environmental impacts by increasing the dilution of the sewage.

BTW: the treatment plant plinth was designed by Phillip Johnson in the 1960s!

map of outfalls and closed beaches impacted by the fire Continue reading