New York City’s environmental progress of the East River amid dolphin sighting

Logan Jonathan, Staff Writer

On March 23, New York City witnessed a rare sighting of dolphins in the East River, conveying the true environmental progress that New York City has made in cleaning its waters.

Due to the efforts to improve the water quality in New York City, the waterways have gradually become more hospitable for marine life to swim freely through the rivers.

In the past, the East River’s pollution has made the water a dangerous environment for sea creatures such as dolphins or whales to swim through. In 2013, a dolphin died after swimming into a severely polluted section of the East River.

New York City’s East River has a reputation for being polluted. The water has been tainted with human-made chemicals, sewage, pesticides and an abundance of bacteria throughout the years.

Before the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, factories based near the river used to dump their garbage directly into the water instead of a landfill. The current state of pollution in the East River is thus a byproduct of those acts.

Despite the infamous history of the East River, substantial efforts have been made to reverse the damage done to the body of water. Currently, the East River is the cleanest it’s been in a century.

University sophomore Bruce Macchione, studying Marketing was shocked to hear about the three dolphins traversing the East River.

“It is exciting to see that the cleanliness of the East River has progressed to the point where dolphins can swim freely through its waters,” said Macchione.

“It’s encouraging to know that the bodies of water surrounding New York City are taking a turn for the better and hopefully the progress doesn’t stop here,” continued Macchione.

The city has spent $45 billion over the last four decades to improve water quality. In an effort to reduce runoff from rainstorms, a detrimental factor that led to the over-polluted waters, the city upgraded sewage treatment facilities

During heavy rainfall, waste from the streets is picked up and sent to the same pipes as sewage. The waste overloads the wastewater system and ends up being flushed into the waterways. This is known as combined sewage overflows.

Approximately five billion gallons of waste flows into the East River each year. The city is beginning to implement green roofs that replace the need for gutters and microgreen spaces on the street to absorb more rainwater during a storm.

Environmentalists claim that a long-term plan to upgrade stormwater management is not robust enough because most New York City property is private-owned.

Landowners have very few incentives to implement environmentally friendly practices such as rain gardens, which are planted areas designed to collect and manage stormwater that runs off the streets and sidewalks.

Still, more than four thousand rain gardens have been installed throughout the city, helping prevent waste from being disposed of into the river.

University sophomore Sagar Patel studying Business Management is still hesitant to swim in the East River, provided the city’s environmental progress.

“The East River is not a place that I would consider swimming in unless something is done, that is not only a way to fix the water but also environmentally friendly and helps wildlife,” said Patel.

“I’m afraid to swim in that water because who knows what the water contains in terms of bacteria. I don’t want to swim there and get sick or maybe worst-case scenario come out with a 5th limb,” Patel jokingly continued.

Not only is the East River becoming more inviting for marine life, but humans as well. Contrary to many New Yorkers’ beliefs, such as Patel, public swimming in the East River is in the foreseeable future.

Project developers of Plus Pool, a self-filtering floating pool, are helping make swimming in the East River a reality again.

Plus Pool will filter out all of the waste from the river and create a space where people can swim without being concerned for their health.

Innovative ideas like the Plus Pool, alongside the environmental progress, that the city has made, assists in bringing New Yorkers back to the city’s waters.

While it is impossible to convert the water’s cleanliness back to its original state five hundred years ago, the progress is undeniable.

You may find the occasional plastic bag and litter free-flowing along the riverside, but in the middle of the East River, you will find yourself in deep clean waters that have been drastically improved within the past few decades.

Ultimately, the city has and continues to make rigorous efforts to improve water quality. The hope is that New Yorkers will gradually begin to embrace the rivers of New York City once again.