|important dates: march 5 - spring semester begins | march 27 - whitehall award|
By 2002, Rocking the Boat students had built six wooden rowing boats. As beautiful and fun to use as they were, the boats really needed a useful purpose. In looking at the different possibilities of what could be done with a fleet of boats on the Bronx River, we decided to take on the job of doing river restoration-something that could only be done with our unique access to the water. Since then Rocking the Boat students have been working hand-in-hand with professional scientists to study and restore the Bronx River. This year's line-up of nine separate projects is our most ambitious by far. The work is tightly packed into a schedule that sees students testing river water weekly for a host of indicators like dissolved oxygen and nitrates; observing bird and fish species that also indicate healthy living conditions; and removing invasive plants species and planting natives in the Bronx River Forest to promote biodiversity. The centerpiece of Rocking the Boat's work this year has been a series of especially dynamic stormwater management projects. Descriptions follow of one continuing project and three new ones that put Rocking the Boat students at the forefront of the growing national "green infrastructure" movement. Most of this work was made possible thanks to generous support from the Bronx River Watershed Initiative, a fund created by the New York State Attorney General's office and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
stormwater capturing rain garden
The 12 x 20 foot, three-tiered, raised bed rain garden teeming with native plants, flowers, vegetables, and herbs has not only been the center of attention in Rocking the Boat's boatyard since Environmental Apprentices finished planting in June, it has been capturing rain from our 6,000 square foot roof, reducing the amount of stormwater that enters the sewer system. So what's so bad about stormwater entering the sewage system? The problem is that the City has a combined sewer system with limited capacity. The infrastructure is designed in such a way that rain water and the sewage that New Yorkers flush down their toilets and drain from their sinks all go into the same system. When the weather is dry, the City's sewage treatment plants have the capacity to process all that is directed into them. But when any more than a quater inch of rains falls, the capacity of the plants is overwhelmed, and all additional flow-both stormwater and raw sewage-is released directly into New York City's waterways through pipes called combined sewer outfalls (CSOs). The Bronx River is the not-so-proud host of five of these CSOs, which dump an estimated one billion gallons of combined sewage into the Bronx River annually. By keeping stormwater out of the sewer system altogether, Rocking the Boat is reducing the likelihood of raw sewage release into the Bronx River. Tracking rainfall over the past four months, Environmental Apprentices estimate that the garden has filtered more than 55,000 gallons of water that would have otherwise drained from Rocking the Boat's roof, gone into the sewer system, and contributed to CSO releases. Planning and design of a second garden, which will be installed in front of Rocking the Boat's building in spring 2012, is currently underway.
After a year and a half of planning and four months of construction and planting, Rocking the Boat created a 10,000 square foot, $350,000 wetland and grassland behind Bronx River neighbor, ABC Carpet & Home. Environmental Apprentices and On-Water Program Assistants planted over 8,000 native salt-tolerant grasses, shrubs, and perennials in order to capture and filter the "first flush" or the dirtiest quarter inch of rainfall that has until now been running, untreated, off ABC's 30,000 square foot parking lot into the River. The project has the added benefit of creating a significant amount of new public open space to the Bronx River Greenway. Rocking the Boat worked most closely with ecological artist Lillian Ball to design and execute the project and had essential help from environmental engineers eDesign Dynamics, contractors Excav Services, ABC Carpet & Home, and the pro bono lawyers at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. Everyone gathered on a beautiful October evening to celebrate the grand opening of WATERWASH ABC. For the next 18 months, Rocking the Boat Environmental Apprentices will be working with scientists from Drexel University to monitor the impact of the wetland.read the daily news article
mussels, oysters, and seaweed, oh my!
In August, Environmental Apprentices' collaborated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Connecticut (UCONN) to begin a two-year project to grow mussels and seaweed to filter stormwater releases from the Hunts Point Wastewater Treatment Plant at the mouth of the Bronx River. Both native ribbed mussels and gracilaria seaweed naturally filter nitrates (the most prominent nutrient in human waste) out of the water. By installing 80 mussel ropes hanging from a 400 square-foot raft and suspending two 100-foot seaweed lines, Rocking the Boat and its scientific partners hope to process up to ten people's worth of nitrates daily. Economists are analyzing how this could provide benefits beyond water filtration and how it could potentially be expanded throughout the Long Island Sound.
Beyond the direct scientific benefit of this project, Environmental Apprentices are receiving the unique opportunity to work hand-in-hand with professional scientists, university professors, and Ph.D. candidates. Biweekly, they are following the work of the UCONN seaweed scientists to monitor the growth of the gracilaria. They have found that the growth rate of the seaweed was up to 11.8% per day, far exceeding what other researchers report happening in any gracilaria aquaculture farms around the world. The plants were robust and very dark in color indicating a high level of nitrogen. It suggests gracilaria has been successfully growing and taking up significant amounts of nitrogen at the mouth of Bronx River estuary. At the same time, Apprentices are working with the NOAA shellfish scientists to monitor the water quality around the raft and the nitrate content of the mussels. Later this fall, Environmental Apprentices will take part in two workshops led by NOAA scientists-one on mussels, in which they will have the opportunity to actually dissect the mollusks, and one on plankton. Apprentices will continue informal qualitative monitoring of the raft through the fall semester and will undertake a more extensive and regular quantitative monitoring protocol in the spring.
2011 is the fifth year that Rocking the Boat students have participated in harbor-wide efforts to reintroduce oysters to the Bronx River. Like mussels, oysters are mollusks that filter feed on organic matter and leave the water cleaner. With scientists at the Natural Resources Group (an arm of the City's Department of Parks and Recreation) and NY/NJ Baykeeper, Rocking the Boat monitors 500 oysters that hang in cages from pilings, measuring their growth and mortality monthly from April to November. Apprentices and On-Water Program Assistants have also had a hand in constructing two significant oyster reefs, or oyster habitats, that sit on the river bottom. In fall 2010, Apprentices helped place 50,000 baby oyster "spat" and are now regularly monitoring their growth and survival rates and the structural integrity of the reef. This information will be essential in helping to build future reefs that will maximize their ability to attract a wide variety of fish, crabs, snails, and plants to the River ecosystem.
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