NEW YORK CITY – Summer weather is here and New Yorkers are ready to flock to the city’s beaches. But New York’s 14 miles of public beaches are just a drop in the bucket for city dwellers to swim, paddle, and otherwise enjoy.
Many New Yorkers forget that the city itself is a chain of chained islands along 520 miles of shoreline, said Michael Dulong, attorney for Riverkeeper, a group that advocates for clean water.
âI think it would improve the lives of New Yorkers to see it as a piece of equipment, not just as the city lineâ¦ or the end of the street,â he said.
The water around New York City is largely safe and of very good quality, according to regular testing by Riverkeeper and other monitors.
But before you decide to take a refreshing dip in the Hudson or East Rivers, there are other factors to consider.
First, there are the strong stream currents.
Dulong said the rivers have powerful flows and strong tidal actions from the port to Albany. These currents – along with their heavy boat traffic – make swimming dangerous for inexperienced swimmers in large waters, he said.
They also make sure that the streams are flushed very often, which makes them, as well as their coves and entrances safer for swimming, largely clean, he said.
âMost of the time we see very good quality water,â he said. “The problem is when it rains.”
About 60 percent of the city’s sewers combine stormwater and wastewater from buildings. When it rains, these overflow and discharge the raw sewage into the water.
Sewer overflows account for 21 billion gallons of raw sewage – or 72 Empire State buildings – that enter the waterways around New York City each year, according to Cut the shit NYC, a site dedicated to eliminating poop-filled leaks in rivers.
âDuring and after the rains, there may be bacteria in the water, other pollutants that you want to avoid,â Dulong said.
Fortunately for swimmers, boaters, fishermen, jet skiers and others in and around the water, the river and the sun wash away and burn off most of the harmful pathogens.
Overall, the water at the mid-channel remains safe and clean, except near combined sewer outlets, according to a Riverkeeper guide. The water near the shore is a bit more of a mixed bag.
âThe water quality near the shores of towns and villages is more likely to be affected by runoff from streets and sewer overflows, while less developed shores generally have less of an impact from rain. Â», Indicates the guide.
Small streams and other tributaries such as the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are a different story.
Tests show the two do not meet EPA standards for safe swimming, according to Riverkeeper.
In addition, the Gowanus Canal is one of the most polluted waterways in the country. Currently, crews are working hard to dredge the canal as part of a massive cleanup effort.
The potentially toxic water did not prevent swimmers from bathing, although for purposes other than recreation. An activist swam twice in the canal in 2016 to raise awareness about drinking water, dnainfo reported.
âI have spent the past 20 years working for clean water and have chosen to risk my body and my life to do it because I love water,â said Christopher Swain, the activist , at dnainfo. “If wanting the Gowanus Canal to be swimmable is crazy, then yes, I am completely crazy.”
Swimming in less polluted and generally safe waterways like the Hudson River is far from unheard of.
the New York TriathlonThe Hudson River swim portion takes place in the Hudson River, although this year the event offers a ‘no swim’ option for athletes who were unable to train for swimming due to the coronavirus. And groups like UrbanSwim and Sharkfest swim organize organized mass swims towards the Statue of Liberty.
In the future, there might be a great option for swimming in the East River. The organizers behind Plus Pool – a giant plus-shaped floating pool with special filtration of the water that will be parked in the river – recently announced that they have been given the green light from the city.
Clean water isn’t all about swimming, Dulong said. He sees water as another vital open space that New Yorkers increasingly appreciate.
The waters of New York City are a major wildlife refuge, with fish migrating daily, dolphins visiting, and whales nearby. Kayakers and canoes have many launches and paddling options. And they have water trails to walk.
Dulong himself enjoys taking the time to watch the dragon boat racers in Flushing Bay.
âWhat we are seeing is a vision of using water, to incorporate water for recreation,â he said. “As we saw during COVID, having open space is so important.”