Revitalizing the Gowanus Canal

One of Brooklyn’s major environmental cleanup sites is finally getting some attention.

The City of New York’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the midst of rebuilding the Gowanus Canal’s wastewater pumping station at the north end of the waterway. The station pulls fresh water from Buttermilk Channel, near Governor’s Island, into the closed-ended canal in order to circulate water.

“It’s basically a toilet tank for the Gowanus,” said Butler Street landlord Rick Rehak, 41. Rehak owns a building next door to the pumping station site, and says he’ll be glad when construction is finished. “When it’s all done, it’ll be great — in the meantime, it’s a train wreck,” he said.

The sponge park concept uses landscape planning to slow, retain, and filter water runoff into the canal. (Illustration: dlandstudio)

The pumping station project coincides with another city initiative for the area, the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park. Envisioned by dlandstudio as a way to beautify the canal while reducing contaminated runoff, the work is set to be completed in spring 2012, according to the Carroll Gardens Patch.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the 7,500 foot long Gowanus as a federal Superfund cleanup site in 2010, according to the New York Daily News, though little work has been done to remediate over 100 years of pollution in the waterway. The EPA has identified at least nine companies that are ultimately responsible for cleaning up former industrial sites along the canal, as well as the waterway itself, which contains PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics, according to agency documents.

Here is a slideshow of the canal in its current, unimproved state.

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