Blissful boating on blue-green algae

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We stepped into a teetering rowboat on Central Park Lake on Saturday afternoon, the pistachio-hued water complementing the verdant landscape. As we navigated the curving waterway, a linen-clad couple declared their affection in the shade of a willow tree. An elderly gentleman skipped his oars across the water with expert precision, the rapid movement of his arms seeming to match the intensity of his thoughts. We bumped into a few rock walls and low-lying branches as we stopped to observe a family of sunbathing turtles, but let’s chalk that bit of awkwardness up to environmental curiosity. Continue reading

Dipping your toes in the water

While water is certainly an emblem of serenity, I often find myself out of breath as I race to spend time with it. In the past few days, I have hustled and bustled to experience New York City’s water, from Central Park’s fabled Bethesda Fountain—which celebrates the purity of the city’s water supply—to the trendy Dumbo beach, one of the sites where the New York City Water Trail Association takes water quality samples.

Through all of this rushing around, I have found that there is often a gap between the mythology of New York’s pristine waters and the reality of its infrastructural failings.

But let me back up for a moment. A few days ago, I raced over to Central Park to view the Bethesda Fountain, which serves as a symbol of New York’s water purity. It was 12 minutes before sunset. An angel with regal wings rises above the fountain, which isdraped with tiers of flowing water. It is a relic of the city’s water history; it was constructed in 1868, and it hails the arrival of clean water to NYC in 1842 and the end of cholera epidemics.

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As I gazed up atthe Angel of Water, a violinist in the park played restless notes, and the combination of his music, the sunset, and the soothing sounds of the flowing water set the stage for a romance. I swooned for sure. Water danced gingerly over the fountain’s tiers, seeming to show off for the nearby stagnant pond.

Flash forward to Thursday morning, when I jumped on several express trains to take my first water sample at the Dumbo beach for the New York City Water Trail Association. This was part of an ongoing project to document levels of of enterococci (an indicator of human sewage) in New York’s waterways. Combined sewage overflows (CSOs) continue to plague the city’s rivers, and this project is an effort to provide health and safety information for summer swimmers and boaters (and policymakers). Continue reading