Since the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, we have been hard at work building and upgrading wastewater treatment plants to ensure the city’s daily 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater is treated to the highest standards and that the cleanest, most biologically similar water is released back into New York Harbor. We’ve also taken that a step further by constructing miles of new sewers to increase capacity, planting acres of wetlands to serve as a natural filter and wildlife habitat, and installing thousands of green infrastructure assets across the city to curb the release of pollution into our waterways.
So, we know why New York Harbor is cleaner than it has been in more than a century, but, how do we know it’s so clean?
Whales! And dolphins! Ahhhhh, so many animals!
Well, yes, whales are definitely an indication. Whales, and a number of other aquatic species, are being drawn back to New York in numbers we haven’t seen in decades, thanks to a newly burgeoning food supply that is flourishing in cleaner waters. But we can also prove that our water is cleaner thanks to data gathered by our scientists who conduct the New York Harbor Survey, an ambient water quality monitoring program that has been tracking water quality data in New York Harbor since 1909. Begun under the former New York Metropolitan Sewerage Commission in response to public outcry over degraded water quality of the harbor, the survey included 12 monitoring stations around Manhattan using just five sampling parameters. Today, our scientists utilize 89 monitoring stations in both open water and tributaries, and study 27 parameters in all four major areas of the harbor.
Why is this data so important? Well…
This expanded and refined monitoring network has allowed us to demonstrate the steady and significant improvement in harbor water quality over the past 110 years and has played a pivotal role in helping us focus our efforts and resources on targeted areas that still need improvement. The role of data is essential in fulfilling our mission to not only sustain but also improve New York Harbor’s water quality and surrounding ecosystems. We use data collected throughout this program, and beyond, to identify trends, correlations, and causation of water quality conditions. The data is also used by regulators, scientists, educators and citizens to assess impacts and trends and to forecast how environmental factors will affect water quality.
Each year, we release a Harbor Water Quality Report that includes data collected throughout the summer months. In recent years, we have also made Harbor Survey data since 1909 available to the public through New York City Open Data. This helps us to be more transparent, and, in turn, helps to build a sound-evidence-base to inform New Yorkers and policymakers of the condition of New York Harbor by providing scientific evidence about the work we have done, and continue to do, to protect the health of New York City’s vital waterways.