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What lies beneath New York's rivers (nymag.com)
105 points by tjic on May 12, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

"21. Toilet Paper, and All That Goes With It When there’s a rainstorm, far more water goes into our drainage system than sewage-treatment plants can handle. So the overflow pipes open wide, and all our wastewater—including the untreated effluvia of 8 million people—goes straight into the ocean. The day after a storm, the harbor is brown and thick with stirred-up silt that is shot through with human waste. Sometimes you can see shreds of toilet paper. When divers emerge from the harbor on those days, their suits have to be scrubbed down with bleach or kerosene before the men can strip them off."

This happens along the coastline around America quietly many times a year. Generally the outflow pipes are 1-2 miles offshore so if you aren't in a boat you don't see it, but as a sailor I see it two or three times a year in my home waters. This is why I always scoff at people who talk about MPG or global warming or anything else - we don't even separate storm run off from sewage in this country because a lot of towns saved some money by running one set of pipes - why are you worrying about possible effects of CO2 when there are massive effects happening from something we have the technology to solve today.

People go on and on about CO2 and global warming because they are a huge problem that nobody can directly tackle. Environmental issues like the one you describe exist everywhere, but they are (perceived as) too expensive to fix so nobody wants to acknowledge them.

One thing that really pisses me off is people using petrol-powered leaf blowers. They are loud and obnoxious, and incredibly wasteful. Whatever happened to the simple broom? To me, the leaf blower is emblematic of this issue. Nobody really cares enough to actually do anything about the insane wastefulness of our society. (And I include myself in that - I utilise way more resources than I really need. At least I don't own a car.)

Your first point is spot on.

Your second point is a separate issue - it's more practical to get people to fix the things that can be fixed before asking them to change the way they live and go back to this unrealistic ideal world of no machinery etc.

I'm not opposed to technology. Because of population density we need technology to survive. What I'm opposed to is the wasteful use of the precious resources we have. We need to utilise modern technology's wonderful potential to get the most out of what we have.

When you consider that so many people (in Sydney, where I live) commute to work on their own in their cars, and that every 30 of those cars could be replaced with one bus, you can only conclude that it's madness.

Similarly that we're still using incandescent bulbs. Or that many office buildings leave their lights on 24 hours a day. Or that people here run air conditioners 6 months of the year (we are not living in the tropics - I'd say there's probably 10 days a year here where aircon is necessary for any healthy adult - obv the sick or the elderly are another story).

Everywhere you look there are gross inefficiencies, things that could be fixed with a little planning, expenditure, collaboration, and compromise. It saddens me that we seem to be too selfish and disorganised.

You're ignoring qualitative differences and other costs. Commuting to work in your own car, which lets you keep that demo system handy that you're going to show a customer, and lets you pick up groceries on the way home, has a higher value to most people. It also means you get somewhere faster, and on your own schedule. If you add up all the hours that smart engineers would otherwise be sitting waiting for a bus, that has a cost to society as well.

The difference between a car and a bus to me is the difference between the internet and cable television. With the former, you get what you want when you want it. With the latter, you have to go along with the group and rely on others to decide for you.

I'm an engineer and I take the bus because it's more convenient and I don't have to think about driving. Some of my best work (thought) has been done on public transport.

Leaf blowers are especially irritating in that it's far more convenient to make your leaves someone else's problem with a leaf blower than to actually make a pile (I don't want to say it's "impossible" to make a neat pile of leaves with a leaf blower, but I think it must require lots of skill, at least). But they don't actually solve any problem permanently, instead just moving the problem to tomorrow (or "right after the wind starts blowing again").

Residents of NYC pays 11.1 billion dollars more in state (and 10.9 billion more in federal taxes) than they receive in benefits[1] (hell, we had to /beg/ for help from the feds after 9/11). That's why there's a NYC income tax on top of the other two. If they received their fair share, things like this /might/ be able to be fixed - along with the huge deficit that the MTA runs[2]. And the kicker of it all? Upstate New Yorkers tend to heavily dislike us city dwellers. Despite the fact that we fund just about everything the state does for them...

[1] http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/2009a/pr166-09.html

[2] http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/mta-faces-12-bi...

.... which is why the problems of government get worse the bigger and further away government gets. Taxes and services at the state level are less bad than at the federal level, and taxes and services at the local level are better still.

When we all send our money into one big pool, and then have to grovel and beg to get it back from bureaucrats, we start to resent our neighbors.

I'll take the "urban regions pay more than they get" argument seriously when urban centers start electing federal reps who say "cut the federal govt and let localities tax themselves to pay for what they want".

If you guys find this interesting, check out a book called "The Works: Anatomy of a city"[1]. It covers almost everything that makes NYC tick. From freight channels, to how post offices route everything, to how water and electricity is generated and delivered to zip codes and land division. The book is filled with gorgeous info-graphics and illustrations. I sat in the book store for an hour flipping through it before buying it.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0143112708/

Agreed. Great book.

This makes me wonder what's under Gowanus' millions of gallons of oil and sludge. Maybe we don't want to know.

I'm somehow reminded of the homemade submarine in 2007: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/04/arts/design/04voya.html

Who's in for some salvage? I wonder how many startups we could incubate with $26m of silver.... :)

"Every now and then, someone tries to find them. So far, no luck."

my first thought: i wonder if someone has already taken them....quietly....

i wonder if someone has already taken them....quietly....

What other way would there be? The line of "officials" who've decided your find should be theirs would stretch around a NYC block. Secrecy is the silver perl of salvage.

Whats with the diver holding the machine gun ? I mean - those are big rats but even then!

They left off Jason Bourne.

29 / ? - Jimmy Hoffa.

Good little article that has made me think about what might be lurking, hiding, or waiting in a waterway closer to my home.


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