Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ruining Nature, Then Beating it at its Own Game

Nature has a way of purifying itself, but then we come along and make of mess of things and throw nature off its game. Then we realize how much we screwed things up and devise ingenious ways of replicating natural systems with technology. It's a bit of a hopeless cycle, but it brings me to the topic of this post: water pollution control plants.

Water pollution control plants use physical and biological processes to closely duplicate how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. In the natural environment, this process can take weeks; at water pollution control plants, it takes only seven hours.

At New York City's 14 treatment plants, wastewater (i.e. whatever is flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain) undergoes processing to eliminate roughly 85% to 95% of pollutants before the treated wastewater is disinfected and discharged into local waterways. The "sludge" that is the byproduct of the treatment process is stabilized by converting it into biosolids, which can be utilized as a fertilizer, water, carbon dioxide and methane gas.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it is really the coolest place I've ever been. The design of the plant, established by Polshek Partnership, makes an (admittedly) icky process
positively chic. Keep an eye out for the huge metal domes (these beauties are literally full of shit) when driving on the BQE or flying into Laguardia Airport.


  1. another great entry! (it says William but it's actually Lois)

  2. what you don't want to know is that since new york has a combined waste/rainwater sewer system, when it rains really hard the water treatment plants can't handle all the intake and they just dump it all unprocessed...hence the beach closings after big storms...

  3. It's true, but the City is working on combined sewer overflow retention facilties, which are basically big underground chambers that hold the wastewater rather than discharging it into the local waterways until the big rain event has passed.