The Gowanus Canal in New York City is one of the most polluted waterways in the country. It was long used as an industrial dumping ground for the factories that line its sides. Now the canal is a Superfund site — a site designated by the EPA as being harmful to the people and environment it borders — and it’s undergoing a $140 million, four-year cleanup. Recently a long mysterious black pipe appeared in the canal and it’s purpose has now been explained — it’s an oxygenation pipe that is literally breathing life back into the waterway as one of the first steps in its recovery.
The pipe is replacing the flushing tunnel that for 110 years pulled water from the Buttermilk Channel — the body of water between Brooklyn and Governor’s Island — into the river to keep the water fresh. The flushing tunnel is undergoing major repairs, but the canal needs to be oxygenated in the meantime, so the pipe was laid and is now drawing water into the canal from the East River.
The pipe will be drawing a bit less fresh water than the flushing tunnel did, but it will provide the canal with enough oxygen to keep some life alive in the meantime. It will draw fresh water from near Douglass Street, supersaturate it with dissolved oxygen, and pump it back through the canal through a system of snaking pipes that stretches for 2,500 feet. Oxygenated water is the key to supporting life, and once the tunnel is finalized it will draw more oxygen than ever before into the canal, creating a much healthier habitat.