Imagine having raw sewage being discharged right in our backyard in Bronxville or Eastchester, because that was the scene at Horan's Landing this morning in Sleepy Hollow and things are quieter and rather more innocuous than you might expect when into the Hudson River.
On Wednesday evening, the Westchester County Department of Health issued this disturbing advisory for everyone from Croton Park Point on down to avoid all contact with the river water until further notice. Because of a sewer line break in Tarrytown that needed to be bypassed for repairs, sewage would likely be discharged into the Hudson from this site in Sleepy Hollow.
A small crew of NYS Department of Environmental Facilities (DEF) employees, including Superintendent of Maintenance Joe LaBella, were positioned overnight in the Horan's Landing parking lot, monitoring what was passing through a usual rain runoff line from an open manhole cover on the street. The sewage overflow just started coming this morning and the men would now begin their minimal treatment of it before its exit from the system into the Hudson.
The line break occurred Wednesday afternoon in Tarrytown on Leroy Avenue under the parking lot of a doctor's office, said LaBella, saying it was nothing you could see from above, but perhaps might at times “catch an odor of.” Line breaks have happened occasionally here on account of our old pipes, he said. This particular break was actually inside the aqueduct, he said.
The sewage for both Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow usually takes this route:
From your toilet, it goes to the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Pump Station which lives at the end of the dead-end road on the river side of the train station in Tarrytown. Here, the waste is only basically treated, which as LaBella described it, involves “pulling screenings,” i.e. removing toilet paper and such. From there it goes to the North Yonkers Pump Station, which in turn leads to the Yonkers Waste Water Treatment Plant. At the treatment plant they “treat it in much more detail,” LaBella said, “further extracting floatables” which is, as you might not want to imagine, excrement.
Until the broken line is repaired, they have to shut down the pumps, and "surcharge" or “back up” the system. The waste has to bypass this backed up line. Throughout the villages, the system is “so old,” LaBella said the lines are all “intertwined” and naturally follow a slope down generally to one place. If one place backs up, the waste will find its way out somewhere else. “This ended up here [at Horan's Landing],” he said.
This sewage has gone through the Tarrytown pump station for “coarse screening” but it will be exiting the system into the river before full treatment in Yonkers. So the men were at Horan's Landing waiting for the overage to move through the system and end up here, which it started to do just this morning when I found them at 6:30 a.m.
They were just getting ready to start hosing liquid chlorine from their tank truck into the open hole in the ground. “Once I set up it up, it'll be continuous,” LaBella said. To this, they would also manually scoop granular chlorine from buckets surrounding the hole, on which sat rubber gloves and paper masks.
You can't see the sewage beginning to come out at the dock behind us since it comes out far beyond the shore and under water, said LaBella. It will be chlorinated and removed of its toilet paper but there could still be floatables. Though obviously off-putting, and hazardous, to recreational river users, this unpleasantness isn't new to LaBella and is all a day's work. How long this work will go on and sewage will be discharged into the river, he couldn't say exactly. This will have to happen until the site at Leroy is repaired; his men are going back and forth between both sites. For past breaks here, LaBella said they've had it repaired in a “day or two.”
The river, mixed as it is here with the ocean and its tides and movement, cleans itself up fast, LaBella said. Once the discharge stops, it could be just a matter of a few days before things are back to normal, he said. Though he might have a different idea of "normal" than you might.