You pray you don’t win first or second prize or even be nominated at all.
But why is that?
If you were handed a toilet seat painted in gold or a plunger painted in silver, wouldn’t you think that was strange and off-putting? Depending on the person, someone may be a passionate plumber but what if you were awarded for having the most polluted waterway in and around New York City?
You would be mortified.
To the New York City Water Trail Association, an advocacy group, hosting the awards is more than just for laughs. It’s a serious matter with a symbolic award aimed to grab attention and force others to face what is currently happening. Held five times, some of the past winners included Flushing Bay and Saw Mil River. Saw Mil River dumps into the Hudson River and has been consistently recorded to have some of the highest pollution numbers. This year the runner up was Coney Island, due to a nearby apartment complex dumping waste into the water nonchalantly. The first place winner was Bronx Kill – definitely, no pun-intended– a strait between the south of Bronx and the Randalls Island.
Of course there are honorable mentions to not leave the rest of the country out of the loop. Now, for where the data comes from, the members of Citizens Water Quality Testing Program, CWQTP, volunteer to test water from multiple locations to add to data already provided by the government. What CWQTP is looking for is any trace of fecal matter from sewage runoff that may have contaminated the waterway. Water contamination can happen from a number of reasons including rainfall or flooding that overwhelms treatment plants and sewage systems and also from the occasional blockage or faulty pipes.
Even though, handing out a gold-painted toilet seat probably won’t solve the issue at hand with our water quality, it sure drives attention towards it and breaks the ice on the topic of how we deeply affect the environment. Even though New York City may be facing these issues, they are not the only ones. Across the nation, urban and suburban communities are at risk of water contamination and are hoping to bring awareness to the issue in hopes of finding a solution.
Holding an awards show is one way to bring awareness on the quality of waterways that would grab anyone’s attention, but, what else is being done to do the same? The city of Seattle is full of self-starters. Nirvana and Starbucks were born in Seattle and became national sensations.
So, what is it about Seattle that cultivates such creative and unique ventures to solve issues? Maybe the occasional toss of large fish in your direction at Pike Place Market keeps Seattle citizens on their toes or could it be the love and dependency Seattle has of its port and shores that tends to spark unique ideas to protect the waters.
Hmm, just a thought.
However, near the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle lies the Denny Way Combined Sewer Flow, which at first sounds too dull to talk about but when you visit you can’t help but marvel at the work of art. The project was created to offset the implications of increased storm water capacity in its first phase. The city’s old sewage system had little capacity to guide stormwater to treatment plants and would allow water to overflow into nearby surface bodies of water. As time went on and new legislation has adapted to new research, the old sewage system was not up to date to meet legal requirements. The new system added stormwater capacity for heavy flows that can be detained underground to slowly go through the treatment plants to avoid overflow.
In its second phase in 2009, artist Laura Haddad was brought on board to visually and poetically express what the project’s purpose was and to bring awareness on its green infrastructure. A new vault was added to the system that included five stainless steel pipes extended out of the ground. Wrapped around them are etched stainless steel panels with a beautiful pictogram along with poetry that conveys how the system works. Seattle isn’t stranger to water contamination and has even faced pollution of their waters from the company Monsanto who is currently in a lawsuit with multiple cities for damages done to waterways by their toxic pollutant PCB (polychlorinated byphenyls) that contaminated waters from 1935 to 1977. Fortunately, Seattle’s drinking water comes from the high cascade mountain that is safe to drink but exposure to the PCB chemical is known to cause cancer. Seattle is in the process of building a new treatment plant in hopes of reversing the environmental damage.
As of New York City, being one of the largest cities in the world can be hard to handle. When it rains in the Big Apple, the sewage systems all too easily back up and begin to overflow and contaminate nearby bodies of water, a problem seen in any major city. Along with that, stormwater runoff glides across dirty surfaces such as roofs and parking lots where pollutants easily accumulate from numerous of cars, trash and waste, which contaminate waterways and technically breaks the federal law called Clean Water Act.
Another national problem is of the contamination of pesticides and fertilizers from the Midwest into local waterways that feed into the massive Mississippi River and dump into the Gulf of Mexico. There you see a number of negative implications that have severely affected the area. Some of the effects include the harm of eco systems of fish and shellfish that have impacted the seafood industry and communities that work in the industry. To start, golden toilets and green infrastructure poetry and art are unique ways to bring attention to the issue of our polluted waterways. They help start the conservation on what is going on, but, what is the next step to solve this issue?
Rebuilding the infrastructure to mend outdated sewage systems would be the best option but that requires an immense amount of time and money. What we can do now to drastically make a difference is to conserve our water to cut the amount of wastewater needed to be controlled and treated in order to become safe again. This will offset the volume of water going into treatment plants and help the amount of overflow if there’s an event of heavy rainfall or flooding.
When you are brushing your teeth, letting the faucet run wastes about 6 liters of water per minute. Turn the faucet off while you scrub those pearly whites. Same goes for letting showers run while not using them. Sometimes, some showers take a long time to warm up so instead hang a bucket from your shower head to catch the water and use for another time. Always do full loads of dishes in your dishwasher or clothes in your washer. Doing small loads not only wastes energy but also water. When watering your plants, fill up a bucket of water instead of using a hose. Letting your hose run is wasteful. Here is a great time to use that bucket of water you collected from letting your shower warm up. Also, water your plants early in the morning or late afternoon to reduce the amount of water evaporation. Instead of waiting for your tap water to cool down for a glass of water, instead just fill up a large jug and put it in the fridge so you can just grab a glass of cold water to avoid leaving the faucet running over time. Invest in water-efficient products such as showerheads, toilets, and a number of others. These products help you do the work in conserving water without needing to mindfully do it yourself.me. Gracing over this list will give you some starting points to conserve water and cut the amount of wastewater needed to be treated every day but take the time to find other ways to conserve. Think of every droplet of water as another dollar spent to treat that water to ensure it is safe for you to consume or be exposed to. Having excess water in the sewage systems that causes overflow puts you at risk of consuming or being exposed to polluted waterways.
Always remember, making small everyday changes will in fact rollover to create a big impact on your communities and environment.
Sustain to maintain.