How Sandy Affected Rivers, Streams, Tap Water

When Sandy blew through our region, the record storm surge flooded basements and roads, knocked out water supplies, and forced water treatment plants to close. A week later, all is far from fixed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 50,000 people in our area remained under either a boil-water or do-not-drink order. The majority of them in Long Beach, New York, where the pump station was flooded and backup power was compromised. New York City's water supply, coming mainly from upstate reservoirs, was and remains safe to drink. But some people in the five boroughs have reported water outages. That may be due to electrical outages, or other problems in specific buildings.Residents of Breezy Point, Queens also cannot drink their water. Click here for a complete list of New York State water districts with warnings.

The City Department of Health has ordered buildings to empty and sanitize water towers as a precautionary measure.

In new New Jersey, 3,000 people scattered in smaller districts around the state were under water warnings. Click here for a list. 

Rivers and Seas

Sandy was the kind of mega-storm scientists theorize about, and it appears its effects were somewhat different from a typical weather event.

John Lipscomb, who studies water quality for Riverkeeper, expected to find elevated pollution levels and lots of detritus when he did a survey of the Hudson River estuary last week. In fact, he says there was little trash, and fairly low levels of toxins.

"It was a surprising day and then once you get that data and you stand back and think about it kinda makes sense," Lipscomb said. "I think a lot of the plastics, although they were floated off the land they were then blown back on the other shore."

Lipscomb theorizes that the force of the storm surge flushed out a lot of the bacteria from raw sewage that was flowing into waterways. 

That's good news, but there are still plenty of problems. The Passaic Valley Sewerage plant, the nation's fifth largest, is dumping 240 million gallons of only partially-treated sewage every day into the Passaic River near Newark Airport. 

Last week, 350,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the Arthur Kill after a tank ruptured as a result of Sandy.

The storm surge was so unusual, reaching its fingers into so many basements, environmental advocates say much more study is needed of affected homes and businesses.