Study with the Best: Water and CUNY

♪ [Theme Music] ♪>>>TINABETH PINA: Welcome
to Study with the Best, the magazine show that’s all
about CUNY. I’m Tinabeth Pina. New York City is surrounded
by water. On today’s episode we’ll see how the CUNY community
is exploring this this natural resource with stops
at Jamaica Bay, Newtown Creek and the sewer
underground. First up- At 40 square miles
Jamaica Bay is the city’s most expansive and fragile
natural waterway. A new CUNY institute
aims to keep the area resilient for years to come.>>>ADAM PARRIS: We’re at
the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge looking out over the interior
of the bay but with the Rockaways in the background.
It’s a good vantage point to see all of the
different pressures and opportunities facing Jamaica
Bay. Both the human and the natural communities that live in
and around the bay are facing pressures like
stronger storms, coastal floods, drier spells in the summer,
things that stress the habitat and stress the people
that live in and around the bay. We come to
expect a lot of things from our coastal zones; public access,
recreation, also commerce. There are sort of patterns of
development and conservation but in many cases those are
competing uses. What we have to do now is try
to figure out a way to reimagine these places and
bring humans and nature into harmony. The Science
and Resilience Institute is a partnership for
learning. We’re trying to bring together scientists
who have a very objective look of the past, present
and future with the many public agencies that
manage the bay. Over thirty different agencies
have jurisdiction in the bay. We’re trying to create a
space where the research that we’re doing actually makes it
into the hands of those people who are the stewards of the bay.>>>JOHN MARRA: The
Science and Resilience Institute provides a framework for
coordinating a lot of that research that was just happening
in bits and pieces around the bay. Now we can focus on not
only those individual research projects but the big picture.>>>ADAM PARRIS: At the
core of the Institute is a partnership between the
National Park Service, the city of New York and nine
different universities with CUNY as the lead institution.
Right now we’re based out of Brooklyn College.
There are at least five or six different colleges of CUNY
engaged in research on Jamaica Bay and the Institute
is a place where they can go and collaborate across CUNY
and with people at other universities. We have
undergraduate students, graduate students,
post-doctoral researchers and a number of different
faculty involved in the Institute. For example we
have Dr. Brett Branco out of Brooklyn College who
has his student Annesia Lamb looking at different
aquatic plants species, different species of algae
and seaweed in the bay. >>>ANNESIA LAMB: This is
the algae that blooms in result of the wastewater
treatment and the high nitrogen loading we
have in the estuary. It’s beautiful. This is a sea
lettuce. In the summer they can really form these
mats and you can imagine they blanket everything
that’s underneath and cause a lot of disturbances
and ecosystem shifts. If we could somehow harvest
this and take it away and that would act as
some remediation of the nutrients in the
water. Jamaica Bay has been undergoing eutrophication,
which is the increases of organic matter to the system
caused by nutrient loading to the system for over 200
years. There’s a lot we can learn. It can kind of
implement change for the future and promote
policy decisions and changes.>>>BERNICE ROSENZWEIG:
We’re interested in studying how very dense
urban communities can be designed and managed to
lessen the impacts on natural systems like
Jamaica Bay. So that the people that live in the
surrounding communities can continue to enjoy this
resource, can continue to enjoy the recreation
provided by the bay but at the same time that they
don’t harm it. I currently work for the CUNY
Environmental Crossroads Initiative and that’s a
new program at CUNY to support interdisciplinary
environmental science projects. It’s important
that hydrologists and engineers and biologists
and ecologists and social scientists come
together in order to solve environmental problems
like the ones that we face in Jamaica Bay.>>>BRETT BRANCO: When I first
arrived at Brooklyn College, which was six years ago now,
the very first semester here I took a class down to Plum
Beach. We collected a lot of data of our own and went
back into the classroom to look at it and I found that
it was, what we would call a transformational experience,
a transformative experience, for these for these students. A
lot of them didn’t realize that this really beautiful ecosystem
was out here and that it was inside the city and
it was part of their lives whether they realized it
or not. We’ve made it a point to bring students
here as much as possible. It’s eye opening for them
and it motivates them to want to do things to help
find solutions to problems the places like
Jamaica Bay face. >>>ADAM PARRIS: There are
people out here who spend almost every day in
the marshes; fishing, kayaking, bird watching, they start to
see some of these patterns of disturbance and response,
they start to see change. In a way one of the most
exciting things about the institute is that we’re trying
to marry the knowledge that we have from very
controlled experiments with the knowledge that they gain
through their experience in the Bay. What I’m
hoping is that we are building a new partnership
between science and society and in the process
10 to 20 years from now Jamaica Bay will be a
symbol of resilience that the rest of the world looks at. >>>TINABETH PINA: Most of
the captains, mates and deck hands aboard the
cities watercrafts all got their training at one
place- Kingsborough Community College.
Their maritime technology program recruits and
inspires scores of men and women in the art
of seamanship. >>>CPT. JOHN NAPPO: If
you go on a New York water taxi vessel or a New York
waterways vessel, a horn blower cruise vessel,
you will find Kingsborough graduates both as
captains, deck hands and as the engineers on all
of these vessels. The companies like our
graduates because of the hands on training they get plus
the practical training using the ship simulator. We also
give them a diesel class and they take several classes in
electrical engineering so they’re very well rounded. Compared to the boat that you all were on last week this
boat is a very simple exercise to drive even though it looks
like it’s a handful. Let’s get the hatches closed and
let’s get underway. We get the full spectrum of
students. We get students who are ex-military. They
come out of the military, they have some G.I. money
they can use, they’re looking to retrain and
become deck hands or captains possibly going
on a tugboat is where they tend to go, the a military
guys. We train a lot of police officers and
firefighters. It’s a good way for them to come and
get specialized training and then take it back
and hopefully they can use that training to get into
a specialized unit. In terms of students coming
out of high schools we get all types of students. We
have students that don’t have driver’s licenses and
come had with zero idea what maritime technology
is or what they’re expected to do in terms
of being able to pilot a vessel or to be able to
work on a vessel. For the most part most of our
students go through the program and they’re going
to go get a job on one of the local ferries or dinner
boats or a passenger cruise line and a lot of them go to
four-year schools. We’ve sent students to Kings
Point United States Merchant Marine Academy and we send
probably 10 to 12 a semester go to SUNY Maritime
for a four year degree.>>>CPT. JOSE BAEZ: Crouch.
Get down low. Do not put your hands under. See
how it’s going under. >>>CPT. JOHN NAPPO: Captain
Jose Baez was a former student here at Kingsborough who was
at sometimes unsure of what he could do and didn’t think
he was a good student but was actually the very opposite.
He was what every Professor wants to have as a student. He
worked very hard, he cared about his grades and more
importantly he saw that this was a way for him to
get a career. To go and become the captain of a
large dinner boat and possibly take
him even further. >>>CPT. JOSE BAEZ: I am a CLT
here, a college lab technician. When I graduated high school
I ended up enrolling at Kingsborough and spoke to
a couple of the instructors and they told me about the
industry, told me about what they teach here and I said you
know I want to try it out. There were other guys here
that took me under their wing and showed me a
lot of different things, engineering end of it.
The driving end of it, so there’s more to driving a
boat than just steering behind a wheel you know
there’s basic seamanship you know line handling.
Knowing what’s wrong with an engine if something
were to go wrong. You know basic maintenance. How to
work properly and safely. And then I graduated and a
week later started over at water taxi as a deck hand.
From water taxi I moved on a couple years later to
horn blower where I’m now a captain. And now I am
responsible for the vessel and teaching the crew same
thing that we teach here.>>>JOVAAN WHITTON:
Move forward on the port engine. Port engine at forward. Being
on the water is beautiful. I want to be a cabin of a boat.
To go all around the world delivering where there’s trading
or whatever the case may be. I want to be able to drive
boats and fix boats as well.>>>CPT.JOHN NAPPO: CUNY
has really really been generous with us in that we’ve been
able to keep our classes relatively small and so that
gives us the ability to have very specialized instruction
and a really good student to teacher ratio. OK. So today’s scenario. We have
four separate vessels. We are all in lower New York
harbor. The exercise for today is I want you to
pilot your vessels from your current location northbound
under the Verrazano Bridge and into lower New York harbor. The ship simulator is something
that Kingsborough is very proud of. It was developed with
Buffalo Computer Graphics and Kingsborough Community
College. We have four individual ships and the
students can pilot the ships using specialized controls
that we develop with B.C.G. It’s an extremely specialized
piece of equipment. It features radar, electronic
chart plotting, a full console with engine
controls, steering controls, autopilot, so it very very
much mimics what they would use on a modern vessel. It’s
become such a successful program for Buffalo Computer
Graphics that the U.S. Army, the United States Coast Guard
and the U.S. Navy have all adopted the Kingsborough
simulator into their programs. So we’re really really proud
of it. It’s been a really good experience for myself
and for the college that developed the simulator.>>>CPT. JOHN NAPPO: Right
now it’s estimated that the next I believe the next ten
to fifteen years there’s a very large need for all types
of maritime graduates. The Gulf of Mexico is drying
up a little bit because the price of fuel is dropping
but things like ferry routes, dinner boat routes and
engineers are in great demand. They say that the maritime
engineers will be in great demand for the next twenty
years according to the MARAD administration. So the
field is booming. We think that we’re at the forefront
of training students to get them jobs when they leave
here in New York City. We do have students that you
know we have them in Dubai now, we have one that’s working
off the coast of Nigeria but by and large we are trying to
get them to stay local and go to work for local companies
in and around the harbor.>>>TINABETH PINA: Steve
Duncan is an urban historian and a photographer
who’s explored sewers and underground water
sources from around the world. Here’s a rare look at
what lies beneath our feet.>>>STEVE DUNCAN: So close
to home and yet you pop down twenty feet there’s
a totally new environment that you’d never think of. You just feel a sense of awe. Dead quiet and you feel like
you’re the last man on earth. And that’s incredibly rare in
New York. I try to look at cities and
their infrastructure by actually going into
it. I try to see it close up. And the reason I think
that’s important is because we create urban places by
making infrastructure. I started grad school
in California for history and I came back to
New York for grad school at CUNY and when I came
here I just fell in love with New York and that was why
I started exploring. At first I was treating it
very much like archeology where I was trying to find places
where the past was preserved more clearly as a time capsule.
That’s First Municipal Rapid Transit Railroad of the
city of New York suggested by the chamber of commerce
authorized by the State, constructed by the city.
I do kind of wish they’d made more subway stations
like this. Part of what’s so pretty about it though
is this design. It really doesn’t work for modern trains.
This is a beautiful curve but since the 1950’s the
train cars themselves have been longer so it’s really hard for
them to go around such tight curves. I begin to look
at the city in a whole new way and I realized that when I
looked at old map and I saw historic streams
running through the city, or what would become the
city, when I looked at an old map from 300 years ago
and I saw those historic streams they hadn’t disappeared,
they had been reshaped over time but those flows
of water were still in some way flowing through the city
today and if I could understand that I could understand
more about how the city works today. This is the water
from the natural stream. It’s clearly free urban New
York. It’s the landscape forcing its way through. The work that I
do these days combines historic preservation approaches
and infrastructure analysis mostly around
historic streams and sewers- I call myself a sewer historian. The Minetta Brook flowed through Greenwich Village
back when Greenwich Village was a separate village from New
York. It was a farming community way north of what was
then New York, which was at the very bottom edge of
Manhattan Island. And back then up until about the
mid nineteenth century the Minetta Brook was above
ground and it flowed right through this intersection
at 5th Avenue and 12th Street. The Minetta Brook actually
started from two separate streams and so this was the
Eastern branch flowing through and then flowed underneath
the site of what’s now the First Presbyterian Church. Now
the First Presbyterian Church was built in the 1860’s so right
around the 1860’s was when the Minetta Brook disappeared
from the surface of the city. I’ve talked to the archivist
here at First Presbyterian Church and he tells me that
still when it rains heavily the basement underneath the corner
where the Minetta Brook once flowed will flood so
that is the Minetta Brook poking it’s head up again. Let’s walk over toward
6th Avenue, follow that flow of water- there is an above ground clue
here that I really particularly like because it’s a really
different from most of the things that I look at and that’s
the shape of the buildings here. It’s at this weird angle.
The reason it’s at this weird angle is because the
Minetta Brook was at a weird angle and when this building
was built the Minetta Brook was still flowing right here.
Being good New Yorkers they wanted to make
the most probably could, build as much as they could
on that lot and again if it was 170 years ago I’d be standing
in the brook right now. Here we can open this up and
see down a little more easily. We can see that beautiful
Minetta water, sparkling, well not so pure and clear
and there’s more natural stream water that
means that there’s a real possibility of day light in that
water and bringing it out, separating it out from the
sewage and letting it flow above ground again as
a natural stream and that means relieving pressure on our sewage
system. Of course at the same time it also decreases
costs for us bringing in fresh water from upstate that we
currently bring in to do things like water gardens
and water trees in our parks. More I’ve gone underground
and have explored waste water systems especially
the more I’ve seen how much we are affected by historic and
present day infrastructure systems and of course
the most obvious is in the case of flooding. Combine sewer
overflows that happen approximately fifty times
a year right now in New York City where untreated
sewage gets released into our harbors. So what I
would like to do is work to make a lot of these
invisible underground infrastructure systems
more visible. Just the ability to see something helps us
care for a little bit better and so I think that citizens
in general are able to understand how cities can
reshape their environment and that helps empower us
to make cities into what we want them to be. When you’re in the dark
you’ve got this blank canvas to play with. You can choose where to
put light and how to make that space appear.>>>TINABETH PINA: Newtown
Creek, which crosses through Brooklyn and Queens, is one of
the most polluted waterways in the nation. So, what’s
being done to clean up the creek?>>>HOLLY PORTER-MORGAN:
Newtown Creek is a tributary of the East River and it’s
heavily polluted because it has a very long history
of being an industrial waterway and it continues to be
a working waterway today. This is Jessie Miller. He is an
environmental science student extraordinaire at LaGuardia
Community College. Willis Elkins from the
Newton Creek Alliance and the North Brooklyn Boat Club
and he’s a collaborator with LaGuardia Community College and
we are on our way to Dutch Kills, which
is a little inlet that’s behind LaGuardia Community College.>>>HOLLY PORTER-MORGAN:
So, we’re going to look at the amount of dissolved
oxygen and the limit for the water to be something
that organisms can safety live in is 3 milligrams
per liter so about 4 to 5 milligrams per liter
they start getting really stressed and have trouble with
growth and reproduction. It is .9 milligrams per liter.>>>WILLIS ELKINS: Wow.
Yeah. That’s surprising. >>>HOLLY PORTER-MORGAN:
That’s actually really low especially for surface.
Let’s see what it is as we go out further. There was
a major oil spill in 1978 that deposited a great
deal of oil in the bottom sediments, which continues
to be an issue for the aquatic organisms. The
E.P.A. designated the creek as Superfund Site.
What that means is that the responsible parties
have to pay into a fund that will help clean up
the creek. One of the other major pollution
issues here is the C.S.O.’s Those are the
combined sewage overflow pipes and there are a number of
them in Newtown Creek.>>>WILLIS ELKINS: On the
back wall that that’s the C.S.O. we mentioned known
as B.B. 026, that’s the formal name of it. So it’s
a fourth largest C.S.O. in Newtown Creek and it’s
something like over 200 million gallons a year
of sewage and storm water that come out of there. >>>HOLLY PORTER-MORGAN:
When we have major rainfall events the water
treatment plants can’t handle the amount of water
that’s coming to them so some of that will go directly
into our natural waterways. You’re adding fecal
bacteria, enterococcus, to the water. You’re
adding trash to the water. Chemicals, nutrients and
what happens is a number of organisms such as
phytoplankton, what we think of as algae, they will live off
those nutrients and they will multiply massively so they’ll
block out the light that everyone else needs to live. And
when they die and decompose on the bottom the decomposition
process takes oxygen away from everything else. Newtown
Creek is actually very narrow and due to that the sewage that
comes in through these pipes is more likely to stay and
settle in sediments then it is to be flushed out
with the tides. 3.23. Much better. But you see the
difference as we came out where you get some kind
of flow. The E.P.A. deems water inaccessible for
recreational uses if it’s above a certain level of
enterococcus and that’s actually what we test
for on a weekly basis and we’ll be able to use this
in conjunction with what the E.P.A. has collected.
In order to look at what the levels of sewage
indication are, what the levels of enterococcus are
over a long period of time and then they will go ahead
with a cleanup of the creek. One of the reasons we
started doing research at Newtown Creek and doing
water quality testing with the local organizations like
Newtown Creek Alliance, like North Brooklyn Boat
Club, like Harbor Lab, was to get the students out into
their community and to let them see how much biodiversity
is in their backyard. I had a student come down and
look and say there’s a sea anemone there.
I see crabs. I see cone jellies. I see fish. And they were
shocked. They never expected to see anything like
this in Newtown Creek. They thought it was just a
smelly ugly body of water. One of the things that Newtown
Creek Alliances is working on with us is idea of turning
some of this area into something that’s more
accessible for the public.>>>WILLIS ELKINS: There’s
really, there’s only two legitimate access points,
one is a nature walk and the others like at the
mouth of the creek so for all of the Queens shore
and all the spots back in the creek there’s no
place where people are encouraged to get to the
water. It’s been a big issue because it’s also
if no one can get to it or see it then no one’s going
to care about it or have any connection to the
water itself. These guys have carved out their own
little spot up here where they have the chairs and
they have a kayak. You know it’s just guys
that are working at this facility so you know
even though it’s not the cleanest water people
are still drawn towards getting access to it so
that still has a lot of potential in the future of both
restoration environmentally but also in terms of access
because you have all these schools that are near the
end of it, all these bridges and a lot of businesses so
there’s a lot of potential to create more access
to this waterway.>>>HOLLY PORTER-MORGAN:
Definitely the water is improving. People are
becoming more cognizant. The people that live in
the neighborhood keep an eye out for industries
dumping into the creek and we’ve actually found a
number of people dumping into the creek, flagged
them, and reported them to the D.E.C. and that’s really
helped. Just a citizen kind of watch has helped a great
deal. We’re also involved in a number of projects
on bioremediation. For example we’re working with
the Newtown Creek Alliance to establish cages of rib
muscles and rib muscles are natural filter feeders.
They naturally filter the water. This is the intertidal wetlands
project from LaGuardia Community College and this is Professor
Sarah Durand’s project. And you can see that the
grasses here they’re all native grasses from Newtown Creek.
They provide a habitat for muscles and for a lot
of other organisms. They’re part of the whole
ecosystem. I think one of the most important things is to get
our next generation out here. Get them interested
in our local waterways. See where the water gets
cleaned and we depend on for life comes from. And
one of the best ways to do that is to bring them out
of the classroom, get them out on our waterways, on a
canoe, get them collecting water samples and testing
it, seeing what’s in there, seeing the organisms and
get them to love it as much as we do.>>>TINABETH PINA:
That’s our show for today. For more information on what
you just saw check out our website at CUNY.TV or log on
to our Study with the Best Facebook page. Thanks for
watching. See you next time. ♪ [Theme Music] ♪

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