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About > About GCC

About the Gowanus Canal Conservancy

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is a community-based non-profit organization that serves as the environmental steward for the Gowanus Canal Watershed.

We envision the evolution of an Open, Clean and Alive Gowanus Canal and Watershed with accessible, connective open space; clean water, soil and air; and vibrant ecological, business and cultural activity.

About the Gowanus Canal

Clean and Green

The 1.8 mile long Gowanus Canal was created in the mid-late 1800s on the site of a former saltmarsh and creek and has seen its fair share of environmental issues. For years, it has captured raw sewage waste from adjacent residential neighborhoods, industrial waste products from the businesses located along its banks, and polluted surface run off.  At the same time, the canal is dotted with structures and bridges that celebrate its important industrial history and is home to egrets, cormorants, and other forms of wildlife.  Currently, the area is filled with small industries, businesses, homes and artists’ studios and is slated for rezoning by the City. In 2010 it was granted Superfund status.

Sources of pollution in the canal:

  1. Industrial Pollution from Factories that lined the canal in the late 1800s to mid-1900s dumped their waste in its waters and on nearby land.  The industrial waste dumped onto the land not only contaminates the land but is also continually leeching into the canal waters.  Pollutants that settled out of canal waters poisoned the sediments throughout the length of the canal.
  2. Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs):  The Gowanus Watershed is the area of land surrounding the Gowanus Canal and which drains into the canal.  The watershed extends well uphill from the canal into Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Cobble Hill.  The sewer system throughout New York City is a combined system:  the sewer pipes leading from our toilets, bathtubs, sinks, etc. are connected to the pipes that drain rainwater from the street.  When weather conditions are dry, the raw sewage is allowed to travel to the sewage treatment plant.  But during a typical rainstorm, the rainwater in this combined system which falls within the Gowanus Watershed (i.e., the areas in the surrounding neighborhoods that drain into the canal) throws off the proper functioning of the sewer system:  the excess rainwater is mixed with raw sewage and released into the Gowanus Canal.
  3. Surface Runoff:  There are contaminants on the streets that are also carried into the canal when it rains.