More than a week after a sewage discharge contaminated New York’s waterways, city officials have finally told residents the magic words: Your rivers’ fecal coliform readings have returned to acceptable levels.
Closure notices and pollution advisories were lifted by Thursday night for four beaches: South Beach, Midland Beach and Cedar Grove Beach in Staten Island and Sea Gate Beach in Brooklyn.
The health department also deemed the city’s rivers fit for recreational activity once again. Until Thursday, the city had discouraged direct contact with water from the Hudson River, the Harlem River and parts of the East River and the Kill Van Kull. Warning signs at beaches and kayak launch locations were being removed, according to a statement from the city Department of Environmental Protection.
The city will continue to test water samples in the coming days “to ensure that bacteria levels remain low,” the statement said.
The announcement came eight days after a four-alarm fire at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem led to the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Hudson River.
The incident hurt many waterfront businesses in the city. Kayak centers, sailing schools and children’s camps canceled events. Many who make their living on the Hudson have been forced to refund several thousand dollars to customers.
The river’s reopening, one business owner said, could not come soon enough.
“The word that came to mind was hallelujah,” said Eric Stiller, founder of Manhattan Kayak Company, which he said lost $10,000 in expected revenue this week. “It doesn’t make up for everything, but to get it done before this upcoming weekend is a little bit of a blessing.”
When reports of the fire broke, Mr. Stiller said, he feared the sewage discharge would last for weeks. He recalled a conversation he had with a friend, before the city’s warnings were lifted, about what he might do if the sewage kept flowing.
“Sell the house and move,” he said, only half-jokingly.
While some New York residents are still uncomfortable with the quality of their rivers, many activities will resume as scheduled.
Manhattan Kayak, located at Pier 66, is holding a full schedule of kayaking and stand-up paddling lessons on the weekend.
According to The Associated Press, an 11-year-old boy has planned a one-mile charity swim in the Hudson on Sunday as a bat mitzvah gift for a friend.
Hundreds have signed up to participate in the Brooklyn Bridge Swim, sponsored by NYC Swim, on Saturday — and they had better show up. The group’s founder, Morty Berger, said earlier in the week that as long as the city allowed for recreation on the river, he would not issue refunds to anyone who backed out because of water-safety concerns.
“If they choose to pull out, that’s their choice,” he said. “If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t put them out there.”