In 1906, the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission was given three objectives (Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, 1910):
"First. To establish the facts attending the discharge of sewage;
Second. To determine the extent to which these conditions were injurious to the public health; and,
Third. To ascertain the way in which it would be necessary to improve the conditions of disposal in order to meet the reasonable requirements of the present and future."
Under the terms of the Bay Pollution Act of 1906, five persons were appointed by the Mayor of New York to serve as members of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission. One of its original members, George A. Soper, became president in 1908. Soper, a sanitary engineer working for the New York City Health Department, gained considerable recognition in 1906 by tracking down the source of a typhoid epidemic to oneMaryMallon, a cookwho became commonly known as "Typhoid Mary." Soper made medical history by being the first person ever to document that typhoid could be spread by a healthy carrier (Bourdain, 2001).
In 1910, the Commissionmade its first set of findings public, which included a detailed description of the horrific water quality conditions in the harbor, a general design for a new sewerage system, and recommendations for public policy changes to deal with the growing sewage problems. It strongly endorsed a joint and permanent sewerage commission to be createdby the states of NewYork and New Jersey. Clearly both NewYork and New Jersey contributed to the problem and both would need to part of the solution. However, tension between the states existed over the proposed construction of an outfall pipe by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Upper NewYork Bay. The new pipeline would divert vast amounts of sewage from being discharged into the Passaic River in northern New
Jersey to a point on the New York/New Jersey border within the Harbor. The State of NewYorkvigor-ously opposed the plan and battled New Jersey in court for nearly twenty years. This battle not only inhibited the creation of an interstate commission but also caused New Jersey to boycott participation in proceedings of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission.
One influential business group, the Merchant's Association, became a strong advocate for sewerage improvements. The Association, like The New York Times, supported the technical conclusions of the Commission, but had other ideas concerning the most expedient approach to getting some action. It advocated enlisting the services of the Federal government to require a "standard of purity" and let "all abutters and defilers" conform to that standard (The New York Times, 1910). If water quality standards were set, New York City and other municipalities surrounding the harbor would be forced to make improvements.
The AssociationpressuredNewYork City officials for manyyears to take action, advocating that nothing was more important than the City's health and that a healthy harbor was in the best interest of the business community. Its frustration culminated in 1923 with the release to The New York Times of correspondence with Mayor Hylan that demonstrated his refusal to devote attention to the sewage disposal problem (The New York Times, 1923). The Mayor'spositionregarding the "alleged germ-laden water around the harbor," was that, "When the immediate and necessary problems are overcome, one of which is transit, it will then be time enough to take up the question to which you refer." Before leaving office in 1926, Mayor Hylan did devote considerable attention to transit issues, creating the city-owned, Independent Subway line (the IND), which opened after he left office, but did little to further the cause of sewage abatement.
From the time of the Commission's release of its final report in 1914, until actual construction of a new sewerage system began in New York City, nearly thirtyyears had expired. The delays in implementation can be linked to poor regional cooperation, a lack of protection standards, the aftermath of the First World War, changing social issues, funding limitations, and political indifference. None of the policy strategies recommended by the Com mission and others to speed up the process took hold during this period. But with continued pressure from the business and engineering communities, and the fallout from a typhoid epidemic linked to contaminated shellfish, a joint legislative committee of the States of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut was formed in 1924 to form a new Sanitary Committee to revisit the sewage problem and recommend solutions. After exhaustive study, the Committee issued its final report in 1927 that recommended immediate adoption of a comprehensive plan of sewage disposal in greater New York. In 1931, New York City announced that it had finally developed a financing plan for the sewerage improvements (The New York Times, 1931) and construction of a new system, patterned on many of the recommendations of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, commenced.
The New York City sewerage story highlights several important challenges to developing regional management strategies for the Hudson River. They include: the development of sound and credible technical information to characterize the problem and to reduce the uncertainties in forecasting the benefits (or consequences) of taking action; thefor-mation of partnerships that include all appropriate decision makers for the geographic scope of the problem and its causes; the inclusion of specific goals to be met; the active participation of user groups and stakeholders; the development of political support; and the creation of funding strategies for both planning and implementation.
Was this article helpful?